Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Song Too Beautiful

Two seemingly insignificant, brief conversations got me thinking. Isn't that always the way?

1. My mom recently, while talking about Andy and how he was doing home visiting for Thanksgiving, said: "It's not that people with autism don't feel anything. That is the misconception. It's actually that they feel TOO much."

2. My dad, commenting on the Patriots' slaughtering of the Jets on Monday Night Football, said, "I was so hyped up I didn't get to sleep until 12:45 a.m., and then I got up at 5 a.m. and started listening to New York sports radio online."

I knew exactly what my dad meant, that sense of getting "hyped up." It reminded me of when the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the ALCS in 2004. At the end of the broadcast they played that famous old song "At Last" by Etta James. When I tried to sleep that night, that song kept running through my head, along with flashes from the game. I felt as if I was in overdrive and woke up at 5am with the song still going in my head.

This happens to everyone from time to time. For me, I think it happens more than the average person. Sometimes, and this is very hard to describe, I feel as if I'm not living my life but living a movie, and in particular a movie with a soundtrack. Any moment that is filled with any kind of emotion becomes a snapshot in my mind, and because I'm a musical person, if there was music on in that moment I'm more likely to capture it and feel it and sense the fullness of the moment in greater detail. And so, even now nine years later for example I hear the song "Trouble" by Coldplay and I don't just hear a song but suddenly have a perfect flashback to a dreary fall afternoon in 2001, watching rain slide down the window panes, feeling the fear of anthrax scares and crashing planes, the weight of the world after everything changed on 9/11. Or I hear "Sweet Caroline" and it's me standing with 30,000 people on a muggy summer evening at Fenway, laughing, belting it out at the top of my lungs, seeing the vivid green of the grass and the scoreboard lit up by the lights, the swirl of people sloshing beer and vendors calling and sticky concrete floor beneath me and the way the whole place thunders when everyone cheers at a hit.

I don't just remember things, I FEEL things. I re-experience them. And sometimes the feeling is so great, I almost don't know what to do with that. That's how I felt that last day with Birth to 3, outside in the backyard, tasting great joy and sadness simultaneously.

It makes me wonder what it would be like if my entire life were nothing but "movie scene" moments. What if every day was spent like the surreal feeling of my wedding day or the birth of my kids; the moments, the emotions so great that I almost felt as if I were in a fog? Would I not soon feel fatigued by it all? Would I not, after awhile, not know how to act anymore, how to handle it all? Would I not eventually shut down because there's only so much time we can live with our emotions and senses in "overdrive?"

There is so much about autism related to processing the senses and regulating emotions. Temple Grandin has talked about how certain places are just a nightmare for her and others with autism. She mentioned Wal-Mart for example, the way the screech over the loudspeaker would be like nails on a chalkboard for a typical person, the lights above blinding, the activity so much, so busy, so varied, it sends her mind spinning. I've noticed with Ethan, if he is denied something he wants to do and feels upset, or gets to a new place and is nervous, he'll launch into repetitiveness. He doesn't know what to do with his feelings sometimes.

I could be way off on this, but I can't help thinking of myself and my dad, awake at night, rehashing the big game, reliving incredible moments. Could that be one of the myriad issues related to autism and night waking? In those quiet hours, their minds are still thinking it all over...processing...feeling...breaking down everything that was so overwhelming in the flurried activity of daytime. Maybe there are songs and phrases and moments just running through their heads, keeping their minds active, the way I kept hearing "At Last" in my head as I tossed and turned after the Red Sox won.

Life is like a song, Etta James sings in "At Last." I think, for people with autism, the song is just too beautiful, too rich, too complex sometimes.


Anonymous said...


so insightful.

i get this. (because i'll never forget that day in '04 when the Red Sox beat the Yankees and then won the World Series.)

i think you're right. and i think you've just changed the way i see my daughter. in the middle of the night she often tries to sing along.

Deb said...

I'm glad you "got" this post, because I wasn't sure if I was making that much sense, even to myself. :)

And I will never forget the Red Sox in 2004. As a Sox fan since age 11, I have to say it literally changed my outlook on life, if that's not too crazy. Somehow it helped me believe that it's okay to believe that the good or impossible CAN happen.