Meatloaf is a food of peace in my home. Everyone is happy on meatloaf nights. One dinner, not too long ago, around plates filled with meatloaf, my sons Andrew and Charlie, and I reminisced about a trip we had taken to Africa some years ago. Andrew asked Charlie what he considered to be the scariest animal in the African jungle, and Charlie whipped out a quick and assured reply, “leprechauns!” Charlie is 23.
For 20 years I have carried sadness for my beautiful leprechaun-fearing son, who lives with autism. I have felt heart wrenching judgment, marginalization, and alienation piled up on his shoulders since he was diagnosed at age three. For most of his life, I have seen people struggle to know how to interact with him and avoid him. In truth, most people seem to fear him, especially when he was younger. It’s as though certain groups of people have a right to be here, and others do not. I perceived Charlie usually assigned to the “doesn’t belong here” group.
Charlie’s father (we’re now divorced), brothers, and I love him with immense tenderness. We have ploughed through life with Charlie in tow, determined to live without apology and irrespective of group assignments, belonging or not belonging. We traveled to distant places, occasionally dined in fine restaurants, entertained in our home, and generally pursued all activity we wanted, regardless of the sounds, hand flaps, and quirky behavior our oldest might produce. I put up a shield around us as we carried forth living our lives. As staunch as we were, that shield was never powerful enough to protect my heart from the rejection of Charlie I perceived.
I’ve been on a spiritual journey this past year, learning what being spiritual means and how to cultivate enhanced awareness in my life. Early in the journey I was presented with the idea that we are all divine souls having a human experience and that the experience we are living was intentionally chosen by our souls for our spiritual growth. This was an incredibly revelatory and life changing moment for me. It was the moment I knew Charlie in a new way.
I acknowledge the possibility that Charlie, like the rest of us, is a divine soul having a human experience. He chose his life and its experiences in service to spiritual growth. This reframes how I view the value of his life, and all lives. It is an enormous and beautiful shift in our relationship. I see him as an equal, a sweet and kindred soul, but with the courage to choose a more challenging human life than most of us have. Knowing him this way, free of judgment, opens the door to more joy, at least for me. My conversation with him and observation of him is filled with novel discovery and delight.
More about the joy….
I was thinking about the life Charlie chose and the purpose the difficulty he experiences might serve. As I worked on deconstructing the reasoning in my mind, I became aware of an important truth. A lightening bolt struck me. With difficulty I admit that I didn’t realize this truth earlier; Charlie doesn’t experience discomfort with himself. He has no negative self-understanding. He’s actually the happiest person I know and completely self-accepting. The ugly truth is that I, not Charlie, had the difficulty with his diagnosis and I largely projected on him the feelings of rejection and separateness. He in no way has a view of himself as rejected or separate. WTF?
I really hate owning this. Remember, I am the mom who created the shield around my family and moved forward with “happy” living. I see that that shield was for me. It was to prevent feelings of vulnerability and rejection. It’s complicated, but in a nutshell, I (like many of us) inherited tribal thinking patterns from generations of family that placed value on being educated, successful, social, etc.… Charlie didn’t fit in this value system, according to my mimetic thinking. He didn’t belong. In my deepest cells, my belief was that my “tribe’ and the world rejected him and therefore me, who bore him. The insight was painful to digest, but also presented a transforming opportunity for healing. To admit this is humbling. However, I don’t believe I walk alone bearing shame. I believe many of us carry shame, and we can resolve it if we choose. I chose to resolve it.
The important shift is to understand that the disturbances we feel to our peace lie within, and provide opportunity to identify wounds or mimetic thoughts, and to apply loving and self-compassion to heal those wounds. Other people cannot disturb our peace – it’s our perception of what they are doing, saying or thinking that causes the hurt. Our perceptions live in our mind/ego and are rooted in generations of inherited belief systems that can be healed if they pose limitations in experiencing love. Do the quiet inward look to understand what beliefs you may have inherited that are limiting the joy or love you experience in your life. Most importantly, let them go. Return them to the ancestors from whence they likely came.
Charlie is a soul, and all the sadness I carried for him has nothing to do with him – it was all mine. Both of these realizations opened the door to new joy, for both of us. The energy has shifted and the release of the negativity makes room for new and better energy. Who doesn’t want more joy?
If you are in a relationship with someone for whom you carry pain or pity- a child, spouse, sibling, or other relative- take a look inside the pain. Is it theirs? Or is it really ours? What are its roots? We can let it go. I choose to be free of the pain and shame, and enjoy love.