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a letter to a sad and lonely stranger
“I am so terribly lonely and sad. This has been one of the worst periods of my life and I don't see how it gets better.”
Dear Daniel—I read your words last evening and I felt them, too. I awoke this morning and your words remained with me. In reading your Twitter thread, it’s clear others feel this too. I’m reminded that is the human condition and I felt drawn to write this epistle to you, to all who feel as you do.
The caterpillar arrived at the end of her life, has begun to unravel in order to enter the next phase of her journey. She is a life within a life, and as her caterpillar life draws to a close and an enforced dormancy falls away, metamorphosis begins. Metamorphosis essentially consists of decay. The caterpillar digests herself and reconstructs herself within the chrysalis. If you cut open a chrysalis you would find a soupy decay and not the mythical hybrid creature your imagination hoped to see. Imagine yourself inside the chrysalis. Imagine, too, eclosion.
Have you heard the story of the well meaning human who cut away a chrysalis to help a struggling butterfly? Sadly, the butterfly could not fly, and died soon after being “rescued”. The struggle of eclosion prepares the butterfly for life beyond the chrysalis—pumping the fluid from it’s wings, building the muscles and growing the wings to full size and power.
Daniel, I believe this story a beautiful metaphor for life and growth and struggle. The visceral ache you described in your Twitter thread feels familiar. Pema Chodron teaches her students to remember other people feel this too. I have felt the aching urgency—the one that wants to take your breath away when, in the immediacy, you can feel the weight of the loss you’ve endured. The absence burning like an acidic hunger at your core and you can almost barely stand to exist within the confines of your skin. Others feel this too.
Autistic nervous systems process everything with more depth and breadth. Emotions feel more intense and have longer duration. We get fixed and stuck and we have trouble sometimes getting unstuck. If you’ve ever driven a manual transmission it feels like when your clutch gets sticky. Or if you’ve ever had bronchitis, it’s that congested feeling you have where the wheezes and rales sound like Legion is living in your lungs and walking one block feels like a weight-lifting marathon.
Autism, for me, revolves around responding to nervous dysregulation—mine and also the collective society’s nervous system. Changing my relationship to pain has felt like a crust wiped away from my eyes. This year I learned that joy can serve as a good weapon against despair. Like turning the light on when the room gets dark—it can still be night outside and when I turn my lamp on I will have light and not lose my vision.
You are a drop in the ocean and an ocean in the drop. You are the corundum stone metamorphosing into ruby. This is your Sema. And sometimes, often times, this all feels like being that lonely soul in the garden, praying for this cup to pass. Or, more bluntly, like the two year old who has just has his heart broken at the end of a challenging day and cannot stand another minute of adult nonsense and so collapses into a wailing and ugly crying heap on the floor. Others feel this too.
This feels like a revolutionary time and I feel as though Covid-19 has come to throw down the awful truth at our feet. Everything is awful, there is still joy. The trees currently shedding their leaves know this. The days grow shorter and nature dies away, knowing. Balance, a cycle. The hardship perhaps can be the ease. Others feel this too. Become friends with the fear that lives inside that visceral ache.
This year has sucked, basically. At the same time it’s reminded us of the oneness of the universe we had perhaps forgotten. I sometimes sit in suspension, unable to move except for rocking myself which many austistics do, for what must be an hour, unable to speak or engage—in these moments I feel the weight of suffering of humanity and the world. What does one do when the dementors come to visit? If autism is a super power, then remember super powers come at a cost and these moments and the way we autistics perceive is both the power and the cost.
Love more. Yourself, the most wretched and insufferable and lonely bits of you. Even if you can only feel grateful for the loneliness, even if in your darkest moments that is all you can see, Daniel, then crazy as it sounds, offer that up. Transform. Let’s each of us take these lemons we have and put them together and make lemonade. One moment at a time. Each moment, a compassion revolution inside of ourselves. You have all you need, my friend: God, a soul, a moment.
I wish you peace and mercy and lighter days. And I wish us all patience.