I recently read a post on Brevity’s blog that was titled, “I’m Sorry You Scare Me.” Brevity, for those of you that don’t know, is a literary journal that focuses on flash (very short) nonfiction. The article was a guest post by Elizabeth Gaucher. (You can read it here.) In a nutshell, Elizabeth’s friend was apologizing for not reading her latest piece. She was troubled, and maybe even scared, by the material. Elizabeth goes on to talk about books she’s been unable to read because “what they reveal … is uncomfortable or confusing or even downright unpleasant.” For her, the work of Toni Morrison was too intense. She picked up Beloved, couldn’t finish it, and never went back.
I didn’t have that issue with Beloved (or any of Toni Morrison’s incredible books) but two years ago I bought a copy of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey at CostCo. I had some free time, so I sat down in the food court with a chicken Caesar salad and opened the book. By page five I was crying so hard that the people sitting near me were visibly disturbed.
I took the book home and have tried on at least three occasions to read it, each time with the same result. When I learned that the book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, I tried yet again. Same awful crying jag. The author does such an incredible job at describing the emotions of infertility, the visceral sense of failure, that I just can’t get past the first few pages. I think I should be able to after eleven years as an adoptive mom. I feel like I can handle it. I certainly don’t experience sorrow over this issue any longer. But then I pick up the book and everything comes flooding back, all the anguish and pain, yearning and loss. It hits so hard it literally takes my breath away. So I put the book away for later, ever hopeful.
After reading the post in Brevity, however, I suspect I may never read The Snow Child. Or at least not for a long, long time. And like Elizabeth, I have conflicted feelings about that, because I pride myself on being someone who doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable. I’m also someone, like Elizabeth, who often forces my friends and family to confront what they otherwise might not. Like her, I believe that I often scare people, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Ask any autism parent and they will tell you about friends who fled, family who ignore. My daughter is regularly shunned by kids at the park, and I don’t have the luxury of looking away. But I’m also painfully aware that this reality is more than some can handle. My ex-husband’s abrupt departure was only the first in a chain that includes close friends, men I’ve dated, and yes, even a sister who no longer speaks to me because “all I ever talk about is autism.” The problem is not that I talk about autism too much, but rather, that I talk about it at all.
Whether I like it or not, autism—along with open adoption, infertility, single parenting, and a host of other uncomfortable realities—are a part of my life. We all have such issues. Some choose to live in denial, and others like myself, choose reality. Or as I prefer to call it, acceptance.
I don’t intend to scare anyone or make them uncomfortable, but I suspect I do it without even trying. Perhaps that’s the cost of an authentic life. As I know all too well, it’s challenging to not shy away from painful situations or feelings. But as I’ve learned over the years, acceptance is preferable to the alternative, and with acceptance comes new friends (or old ones who reappear), new men to date, and other joys I never would have experienced if not for my strange and glorious unplanned life.
Until next time,