It’s a phrase I’ve used a lot lately: impersonating a human. I’m on the autism spectrum — which is a spectrum that represents a range of abilities and dis-abilities but does not include neurotypical people — and the symptoms seem to be getting more obvious and pronounced. I know that measurement changes things, that even mere observation can change things, so I may be merely noticing the symptoms more clearly. It’s hard to know.
What I do know is that I struggle with things, especially relationshippy things. Many things that come naturally to most people don’t even occur to me. I learned from a radio show recently that the one thing that people who are most-liked do more than others is to ask questions. It’s true – when someone asks me questions about myself, I do like them. They’re interested in me, and it’s hard not to like that. Even after learning this, I still don’t remember to ask people questions when I first meet them. I want to respect their privacy, and I want them to be comfortable, and I don’t want to be nosy or creepy. I may just be with them quietly. This is one of those places where I try to remember to impersonate a human, to try doing the things I see “normal” people doing. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s an obvious impersonation, whether they can tell I don’t know how to function socially.
There are people I call friends or family, people I love and think about often and name in my prayers, with whom I haven’t actually spoken or communicated in months, if not years. I will wonder how they’re doing, what’s going on in their life… and yet it doesn’t occur to me to do something about it, to send an email or pick up the phone and make a connection to renew the relationship.
Many years ago, I read a book in which the central character said that, next to a slender, beautiful woman, she felt like a teddy bear in a dirndl. That is often how I feel in relationships – this bumbling teddy bear, clumsily blundering through a room full of priceless treasures, inadvertently bumping into this table, knocking down and chipping that treasured relationship, tripping and falling into a shelf covered with beautiful friends. It feels utterly awkward, and I constantly feel like I should apologize for my clumsiness, but even my apologies are graceless blunders.
When I impersonate a human, I try to visualize myself differently. I try to see a graceful, slender ballerina, in control of every part of herself, effortlessly beautiful and gracious. I probably end up being a teddy bear in a tutu, clumsy but with a reminder that beauty and grace are possible when I relate with other people.
Today, I pray for everyone whose interactions with other people feel like a teddy bear wearing lederhosen or a dirndl, for those on the autism spectrum, for those who feel awkward and graceless, for everyone who gets through the day only by impersonating a human.