I was remembering the Zee TV show “Raavan” the other day. In it, Raavan’s father, Rishi Vishrava, is portrayed as someone who, today, might be a physicist. He sits in front of various glowing orbs representing I forget what scientific properties, and they levitate with his meditative powers. Eventually, he makes a necklace out of some similar orbs, and this is what Raavan wears that gives him the illusion of having ten heads, which he uses for intimidation purposes on the battlefield.
Sometimes, autism parenting makes me feel like Rishi Vishrava with his orbs. I am always trying to work with what feels like it’s right in front of me, but is eluding me because I am looking at it too obliquely, or too head on, or too something. My husband (who is a high energy particle physicist) talks about how studying particles alters them. We cannot get any information about an object without interacting with it in some way, and that always changes something about it. All observation entails active interaction with the observed.
And let’s face it, I am not the only one doing all the observing. A (that sharp little particle) is studying me right back, and changing me all the time too. To survive in an often jarring world, he has to be a Vishrava, sitting in his room and levitating the orbs of who knows what social, sensory, and linguistic properties.
Scientists have to accept that there is no foolproof way to step back from a material world that is all around us and in us, in order to study it with complete detachment. The best they can hope for is to be faithful documenters of the process, and of course that process is an agreed upon set of best practices.
So too, there is no real detachment between A and me.
I loved that show, “Raavan.” It coaxes us to stop being so smug about how we read the Ramayan. It gives us a peek into how the historical bad guys were demonized, and had to keep defining themselves in the face of ruthless rewriting of rules. Value systems are a tangle descended from ambivalent actions, and we might as well admit that if we are ever to make grown up choices about who we want to be.
Autism life is a web of choice and compromise. Fierce advocacy and resigned surrender. Helpless entanglement and cultivated detachment. Despair and love.
Like the show does, autism messes unapologetically with our heads. It realigns our preconceived smug-ass ideas of what being loved or accomplished or righteous means. We can refuse to have our perspective shifted, there’s always that choice; but Vishrava didn’t do that, and nor should any self respecting observer-participant.
Raavan. Zee TV. Nov 18, 2006–Nov 16, 2008. India.