My friend and reader Ashubii (check out her blog, if you haven’t yet–her writing is rich and delicious!) reminded me that I haven’t yet shared the post I want to write about online friendships. I have been mentally composing it for at least five months. Each time, before I sit down to write it, something happens that causes me to feel insecurity and confusion regarding the points I’d planned to make–so I’ve been putting it off. I guess I don’t feel it’s 100% authentic yet, so I am waiting. I’ve been waiting for a time when my confidence matches the tone of the post I’ve written internally, but now I’m thinking that I will likely write a different version, one that approaches the confusion and insecurity, while also expressing, yet in a less resolved way, some of the happier points I want to make.
Meanwhile, something else is fresh for me.
I’ve been exploring the way my brain feels in social situations. It is as if my synapses run on parallel tracks, lacking the cross-overs that neurotypicals have. (Quick research indicates that neurologists are exploring what they call parallel fiber synapse in conjunction with autism.)
I am aware of the inability to cross from one synaptic track to the other–and this causes processing-fatigue after social interactions that exceed my capacity. I’ve also been wondering what happens in the gap between these two parallel tracks, for that region of my being and consciousness feels to me very rich, very ripe, and very full of potential. It’s also where I dwell–in the gap.
Two parallel stories from a recent evening illustrate:
Our department coordinated and produced the district’s “Celebration of the Stars,” an honoring of over 100 teachers, administrators, and staff members. In past years, our department director has understood and respected my preference to avoid large groups, so I haven’t been required to help.
This year, our new director wanted the entire department to pitch in. I very much want to be part of the team–so I was willing to make it work, even though I considered a) asking to be excused or to help in a different way, and b) calling in sick (I knew I wouldn’t do this, but I wanted to consider it, so I could realize that it was an option, if I chose.). I decided to shoulder the consequences (nervousness, possibly anxiety, upset at having our household and evening schedule disrupted, and post-event processing fatigue). It would be worth it to contribute.
I let myself have a mini-meltdown driving into work that day–and that relieved some of the pre-event anxiety.
I arrived early to help with set-up and was rewarded by a few joyful moments delivering bouquets of helium balloons from prep room to stage. Running down the empty high school hall with dozens of balloons, I felt buoyant, like I would lift at any moment! That joy remains! Then, the balloon strings got tangled, and so a coworker and I shared giggles as we untangled them.
My job was to staff the sign-in booth, greeting people as they arrived, checking off names of the honorees, and handing out certificates. This task was fun and easy–I loved the smiles as we congratulated recipients, and it felt marvelous to recognize so many in our district who give so much.
The times where I became aware of my divergent ways of processing happened in the off-moments and pauses, when clusters of people gathered to talk, and I watched the conversing groups. In those moments, I became, as I always do in social situations, keenly aware that I was missing things–texts, contexts, and subtexts were being shared which I had no access to. I could witness the effect of these shared meanings among those who shared them, but I stood outside the circle of sharing, clueless to the meanings.
This is where the gaps are.
For example, one group of teachers sat together, smiling, laughing, and enjoying their mutual congratulations. Then, one would make a snide comment–or even just a look–and, for the briefest of moments, they would all share in the meaning of that. Something was conveyed, agreed upon, and shared. As an onlooker, I lingered in the smiles, puzzled by the real meaning in the moments between the grins. I can see the two parallel tracks–the face of happiness and the grimace of complaint–but I don’t have the connecting synapses to see which is mask and which is true, or even how both could exist simultaneously. But it seems to me that neurotypicals have these connecting fibers, being able to see past mask to the true meaning, without breaking the socially acceptable facade. When I watch my coworkers, they convey volumes of meaning with each other through a glance, without needing to say a word. And if I ask what about what is really going on, my question is interpreted as being inappropriate–for, apparently, there’s some code about what can be said in words and what can only be said in a look. I am guessing that when one has connections between the parallel fibers, those connections allow one to translate the looks into meaning and to see past the spoken word.
At another moment, I said the wrong thing at the wrong time. One of the coordinators had made the mistake of not being clear in the district-wide email invitation she sent out that, just because you received this email, it did not mean you were going to be honored, so we had about four people show up expecting to get awards who hadn’t been recognized. I mentioned to the woman helping with sign-in that we needed to be more clear about this next year. She proceeded handing out certificates as if she hadn’t heard me. My impulse was to repeat myself, perhaps a little louder, since I’d spoken softly–then I realized: Oh. She did hear! It’s just that this is not the time nor place for this comment. But it’s the gaps that leads me to make that comment, regardless of place or time.
The evening, while successful and worthwhile, exhausted me. A few days later, my brain still processed moments, overheard conversations, and exchanges, trying to bridge those gaps in parallel synaptic tracks. I am trying to make meaning out of the shared experience that seems so common to most everyone else who was there that night.
And of course, there are echoes of every mother-daughter tea, high school dance, busy elementary school classroom, wedding reception, family celebration, office meeting, and countless other social interactions involving more than five people where I stood, outside, even if I was inside, trying to bridge these gaps.
And then, there was this exquisitely beautiful moment:
During the recognition ceremony, I remained in the entry hall, at the sign-in table, to greet late-comers, answer questions, and help as needed. Early on, a big sister, around 12 or 13, came out, carrying her wailing two-year-old brother. The auditorium was too loud, too dark, too crowded, too confining, and he needed OUT. I understand, for that’s the real reason I remained in the relatively quiet and less crowded foyer.
She carried her little brother outside, brought him back in, and one of the other staff members handed him one of those delightful balloons, a big gold mylar star, filled with helium!
I wrapped the string around his wrist, so it wouldn’t fly away.
“Is that OK?” I asked him. He nodded.
We played for a bit, batting the balloon and jumping, miming the act of being lifted off our feet and flying, floating.
We were both there–present, wholly present, with our smiles, our game, the joy of a bright balloon.
“Are you OK?” he asked me during a pause in the game, and I smiled inside at the echolalia of my earlier question to him.
“Yeah, I’m OK,” I replied. “Are you?”
We played some more.
He became very still for a moment. I could see him tuning in, feeling what was inside of him, and identifying that feeling.
Very softly, he said, “I love it.”
“Aw,” I replied, “Do you love your balloon?”
He broke out into a smile as he looked at me. “I love you!” he said.
And he ran to me, wrapped his arms around my neck. “I love you,” he repeated, and he kissed my cheek.
It was–genuine. True. Authentic. It was all within the gap, not happening on parallel tracks. This was a pure expression of a pure feeling.
Love rose up through the earth, through the soles of his feet, into his heart–and with the consciousness of being, this two-year-old felt, identified, and expressed love. Just like that.
In the purity of feeling, energy, and expression, there is no confusion. There are no parallel tracks–no masks, no facade.
He and I met each other in the gap–where we both were simply our present human selves. And in that meeting, we shared love, which is one of the energies that can fill the gap.
As exhausted as I became in processing the rest of the social interactions of that evening, that simple and pure exchange, with another human who ventured into the gap with me, fills me with energy.
So, I am aware of many of the consequences in missing meaning and connection with others that come from my divergent neurology.
And I am also aware of the countless gifts, in presence, in spirit, in connecting with divine energy, with nature, with purity, and with love, that come from my neurodiversity.
What fills the gap? It is love, energy, presence. Spirit.