Monday, December 6, 2010

FTF: Post 11: "Friendships Lost Leave Openings for Others" by Gina St. Aubin

The final First-Things-First post for the year is up and it's a good one too. In fact, given the time of year, it's very appropriate.

You can read the post (as usual on Hartley's Blog, The Gift or Asperger Ninja).

Here's some of my thoughts after reading the post...

Given that it's the end of the year, I've been thinking a lot about Christmas. My kids go to a Catholic school, so there's no problems with the concept of Christmas but I often wonder about children from other religions. I can understand that Christmas is a Christian concept but I feel that it's sad that some children miss out because of choices made by others.

Would I feel the same if the shoe was on the other foot? I don't know. I sometimes feel that if there was a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindi festival which was centred around the distribution of chocolate or presents then I'd want to be part of it.

For me, with my general dislike of organised religion (I believe that what you feel inside and how you treat others is more important than showing up at church), Christmas isn't about Santa and it isn't about a religious figure having a birthday. It's more about reaching the end of the year and taking a good look around to see who is still standing shoulder to shoulder with you.

It's about reaching out and touching those we've forgotten about or simply not had time for (Christmas cards) and remembering those we can't touch. To me, Christmas is about family and friends - and I think that applies to all people regardless of their beliefs.

Reading Gina's words "struck a chord" and made me think about all those friends who have wandered out of our lives because they became too difficult. It was happening BC (before children), people disappeared because my wife and I became a couple. Then they disappeared because we had children (and they didn't). Each time a group disappeared, a new but increasingly smaller wave of friends would appear. It was like ever-decreasing ripples. Of course, the big one was special needs. Mention this to people and they run a mile.

The circle of friends who have been with us from the beginning is now very small but fortunately those numbers have stopped shrinking. In my eyes, there is no difference between these people and family. We are one.

One of the side-effects of the friendship drop-off is that we start closing doors to future friendships. We begin to assume that everything is going to fail and when someone is out of contact for a while, we are quick to assume that they've written us off.

Gina's post reminds us that just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does society. New friends come along when you least expect it and sometimes we simply need to be more open and accepting. It's a great message for everyone and an especially great message at this time of year.

10 comments:

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Gavin, I always have a hard time when people say that Christmas ought to be meaningful to the rest of us, regardless of religion, and that those of us who don't celebrate Christmas are unhappy about it.

So let me make it very clear: There are many, many, many of us who do not celebrate Christmas and Do Not Feel That We Are Missing Out On Anything Except A Lot of Stress. Really. We have our own holidays. On the Jewish calendar, there's a holiday nearly every month, and some months, we have more than one. We eat, we see family, we give to the poor, we count our blessings, and we do all these things at many different times during the year. We have a rich ritual calendar, full of fun and meaning and celebration.

I can enjoy that other people find Christmas meaningful without finding it meaningful myself. And so I'm always open to people who can enjoy that I find my holidays meaningful even though they don't celebrate them. Just because Christmas takes over the airwaves and the stores doesn't mean that the rest of us are sitting around wishing we were part of it. Not in our house we don't! We're way too busy with our own cultural and ethical lives.

Gavin Bollard said...

I knew that post was going to be a little controversial. I guess I was just thinking that if you were the only kid on your block who didn't get toys on a certain day, you'd be sad. I think that I'd feel that way.

In Australia, there doesn't seem to be a huge Jewish presence. I'm not sure why. I'd love the festivities of other religions to be more inclusive.

Sadly, my main Jewish education probably comes from South Park and I really don't think that it's the best source of truth.

I'm always interested in what it feels like to be part of traditional events.

I'd just love us all to have one "earthly" happy day where the only things that matter are happiness and togetherness. The date doesn't concern me, just the "vibe".

Anonymous said...

Hi Gavin. It's Waterloo. Have been in limited contact with my aspie ex. I asked if he thought it was possible for us to move on from this and be friends some day. He said, 'yes, but we need a good amount of time between us to cool off'. We have had scant and unremarkable email exchanges - always initiated by me. The other day, I sent him an email, in a moment of despair, informing him that my dad (whom he has met coz he came to NY with me on holiday) is very poorly now, the cancer has taken its toll, he is bed-ridden and debilitated. I wrote that I feel despairing and full of anxiety - and I do. He never replied - not even to say I'm sorry to hear about your dad. Is this typical of an aspie or should I assume he is utterly callous and I should sever all contact? It's a never a good time to be dumped by the person you love. It's worse when they do it while your parent is possibly terminal, and knowing you will be home alone (with no family) at Christmas. He knew all this when he ended it.

Gavin Bollard said...

Hi Waterloo,

Aspies don't tend to communicate their feelings in the same way, or as much as, neurotypicals.

In fact, aspies don't often realise that someone wants them to communicate their feelings.

Your aspie ex may feel sad for your situation and may not realise that he's supposed to tell you that. After all, there's nothing in your communication which asks for a response about your statement.

There is a big difference between not feeling and not telling.

TherExtras said...

I think the winnowing of 'friends' over adulthood is natural and leads to the deepening of relationships - to become like family. A good thing. Staying open to new relationships is good, too. Not mutually exclusive to the former concept, I think.

"earthly" happy day - seems a bit naive. I go with Rachel's - paraphrased 'each to his own' is okay.

I don't see your post as controversial so much as philosophical - which is how I characterize my seasonal post. You might want to read it: Having choices is wonderful at
http://therextras.typepad.com/

Barbara

Anonymous said...

Hi Gavin. If you have a second could you explain this to me? I am reading Aspergers in Love, which (like you) discusses the problems Aspies have with non-verbal communication and short-term memory. Does that apply if the NT's emotion has been written down? For example, an Aspie may not be able to detect depression or expressions of love from another person, but if the NT wrote an email or letter that said: 'Dear X I feel depressed today, or I love you so much, or you are the most important person in my life' would the Aspie understand that? Does the Aspie understand subtleties like sarcasm, sorrow, anguish, love in the written word? I have Googled but haven't got anywhere.

Gavin Bollard said...

Anonymous,

It's certainly correct to say that an aspie will identify your state of mind much more easily if it's written down. After all, wallking around with a "sad face" on doesn't really communicate "I am sad" to an aspie as well as writing it down or telling them straight.

So, communication of the emotive state itself is improved.

Understanding is a different thing altogether.

It's not enough to simply communicate the state, you need to be able to communicate a comparative intensity. How sad are you? On a scale of 1 to 10... are you as sad today as you were yesterday?

Then you have to disclose what is needed to make you happy - a hug?, some words of praise? - maybe you actually want to remain sad?

Then there's understanding of the actual reason. If someone has died, then it's pretty easy for us to understand why. Often though, people are sad for no particular reason. For example, when my kids get their reports home from school, sometimes my wife will be sad about them. They're not abysmal reports, so I don't see a reason for the sadness. I can't understand why it would make her sad - but it does.

Writing down your emotive state is a great start there's a lot more that you need to communicate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for that, Gavin. One reason why I asked about the written word is because I started wondering how an Aspie can read (process) a work of fiction as opposed to a factual book such as A Brief History of Time. I recently read a book called One Day, a beautiful story of love and loss and yearning, and started to wonder if an Aspie could ever feel moved by it in the same way as an NT. And what of children's books, which are often silly and illogical, and written in verse - such as The Gruffalo, Room on a Broom, or Bubble Trouble?

The other reason is because I wrote my Aspie ex an emotive email two weeks ago - very emotive, in fact - and didn't get a reply. It was dismissed. He did, however, reply to an email I sent him yesterday informing him about a gig that's to take place in London soon.

I know there is little hope for us as a couple but I'd do anything to have his friendship again. He was my best friend and I miss him dearly.

Thanks for replying to my questions, Waterloo

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I'm an atheist and when I dropped out of the christian faith I was a little sad about the lack of festive cheer. I discovered a wonderful thing to celebrate the end of the year without religious connotations. Now I decorate, send cards and give gifts for New Years. Easy, same time of year, you can even insert santa in there if you have little kids.

Milla said...

Very insightful writing, thanks. I would just like to add that you can celebrate Yule (joulu) without any Christianity thrown into it. It's all about the Sun taking over darkness and making life fun again! December 22nd is the shortest day of the year after all and then days start to get longer...

Greetings from Finland, where at the time of Yule the sun sets around 3pm and to rise again around 9.30am