What is friendship…? And how does an autistic find it…
As someone for whom friendships have been the dream of a lifetime, and one could say the focus of my entire life, I came to wonder at 3:30 this morning, what exactly IS friendship, and what do I do to actually find it? Clearly the word “friend” holds a wide range of definitions, ranging from the one I have been told consists of those “I can count on the fingers of one hand,” to that group that Fernando Varela recently refered to in the pledge breaks of his PBS special “Fernando Varela: Coming Home” when he talked of how he looks forward to the millions of new friends his PBS special will bring.
I can begin, as I always do, with the dictionary… where the appropriate definitions range from “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection;” to the Internet definition: “add (someone) to a list of contacts associated with a social networking website;” to the widest definition of which Fernando speaks “a patron or person who helps or supports something or someone.”
Clearly, when I aspire to friendship, I do not merely aspire to be a patron… there is something more than that I have in mind. So, I asked God what a friend was. And in a dream, He answered me, saying that “a friend is someone who loves you, and who makes that love for you a priority in their every action toward you.” So, in that dream, I told God that my wish is that if God were to ask each person I love most who their friends were, that my name would be on that list. And, I guess, for me – that is the definition of a friend – those people who our hearts recognize as friends, who we would number among our friends in a conversation with God. Clearly, that list would be wider than just those few we might spend the most time with, or see as our closest confidants, yet certainly much narrower than the millions of which Fernando might speak.
So, as someone who has spent a lifetime wishing for, and focused on those friendships, I still found myself wondering what might allow someone to be included on that list. And the only common denominator I can find is trust. It is not simply love, for I believe many people of good heart hold love in those hearts for many outside of that list of those who they might number among their friends. It is trust, I believe, which puts someone on that list. It is trust which allows us to include that person in the ones our heart allows to be considered a friend. It is that same trust, that as an autistic, I have found hard to cultivate.
I have no question but what I deserve that trust. I know my heart, and I have seen the hearts of others, and I know my heart is true – and that for those people it considers as friends, I do what God would direct, and try as best I know how to put love as a priority in my actions toward each one I would wish to number among my friends. But yet, in making that list to God, I would find the need to caveat it. “God, these are the people my heart considers a friend – yet I cannot say if might have the mutuality that might see us as having a friendship.”
So, I posted this morning that the most recent interviewee for International Autism Acceptance Day is quoted as saying “My personal goal is for autistic people to receive the same recognition, respect and rights as anybody else, ” and noted that I suppose if I had to quantify mine, it would be for autistic people (and anyone else who falls outside the “norm”) to have the same opportunities for love and friendship as anyone else.
I so often have found myself at arms length of those I love, and yet even those who claim to love me. What lacks, I do not believe to be love, for I do see love in them. What lacks is my understanding of what it might take to overcome the oddities and quirks of my autistic reality to gain their trust… that same trust that I have so willingly given them. And I believe that answer lies in a response I got to a post the other day, that people find it hard to trust that which they do not understand… so that would tell me that a key to cultivating the trust I want and need to build friendships is first to cultivate that understanding.
I have so worked to do that – on a local level – among those I most wish to consider as my friends. Yet still I feel the end of their arm, as they use it to keep me “safely” distanced from them. And I understand that trust is a hard thing to foster in anyone, even as I realize my own trust to sadly be becoming more sparse and more dear. But somehow, that is my goal, to find the understanding within myself, and within those I care most for, that will allow that trust to be built, so that I might feel those muscles soften that work so hard to hold me at the length of their arm… and I have to hope that at least the first part of that is the realization that I see them in that list I so much want to give God, as one of those I love, and work hard to only love in everything I do. This is where my hope lies that love can in fact conquer all…