“See you next year, Fourth of July!” says Angelic Daughter, as she removes the special magnet denoting the day from her perpetual calendar.
For the second year in a row, we didn’t attend The Parade (our little town’s annual event that in years past has quintupled the population for a day). It just didn’t seem like fun to watch a vehicles-only, socially distanced, spread-out “parade” with no decorated bikes, no sometimes-funny-but-always-offensive lawn mower drill team, and no marching bands. I suppose the inevitable high school garage band appeared on a truck this year as always, playing “Louie Louie” just like my brother’s band did fifty years ago, but this year I would have had trouble seeing the charm.
We’ve always called the holiday just “the 4th” or “the 4th of July,” but Angelic Daughter also knows the day as Independence Day (though I’m not sure she understands that beyond “America’s birthday” – birthdays are one of her “things,” and if you tell her yours, she’ll never forget it).
I think about independence a lot, in the context of trying to prepare Angelic Daughter for it. A parent’s only real job is to enable their children eventually to live without them.
For those who are not the parent of an autistic person, or other person with different needs, “independence” means something else. Unfortunately, it seems the idea of “independence” has gotten warped in some sectors of America into a notion of freedom defined as “every person for themselves.” Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who refuse to accept their responsibility as members of a community larger than themselves, and don’t seem to care about the impact their decisions have on others, invoke “freedom” as their rationale.
We used to care about each other more. That intensifies my worry about the inevitable, and preparing Angelic Daughter for it, and finding caring, loving people who will stand up for and with her, to keep her safe and help her have a full and happy life.
Among Angelic Daughter’s many beautiful qualities is that she is innately incapable of holding a grudge. Her first response to a slight or a disappointment inflicted thoughtlessly by a friend or family member is to forgive, and to send wishes that everyone get over their “upsetnesses,” anger, and frustration, and feel better soon. She wants everyone to get along, and be happy.
Of the many lessons learned from losing Mike, letting go of resentment, anger, and feeling wronged was probably the most important. A few years ago, I had lunch with two high school classmates I hadn’t seen in decades – and came away burdened with stories of harm inflicted and pain suffered that persisted long after both these friends had been divorced. One offered to stay with Angelic Daughter occasionally, but I don’t want grudgey, put-upon, unforgiving, angry, vindictive people around my daughter.
Which is why the available pool of family members who might participate in future care for Angelic Daughter got reduced by one this weekend. Out of the blue, this person spewed personal invective into a family chat used for upbeat updates about what everyone’s up to.
And persisted in it even after a reminder that Angelic Daughter was a part of the chat.
This person is older than I am, so it’s not very realistic to think they would have been involved in Angelic Daughter’s life for very long in the future. Nevertheless, the willingness to disregard the effect on innocent bystanders of insults directed at another family member in a family chat is an instant disqualification.
It makes me sad when anyone allows themselves to be controlled by, motivated by, or mired in past wrongs, real or perceived. Letting go is one of the best ways to gain independence I know. Learning how to let go before letting go is forced upon you by loss is an opportunity not to be squandered. Wallowing warps what you have left of life; why would you want to do that? What’s the point of hanging onto hurt and making it the center of your existence? That’s not independence, that’s a trap.
I wish you independence, even if it means completely reinventing your life. It’s the one life you have, so wasting it fixated on resentment and settling scores will fill you with regret when you suddenly realize you’re out of time. Do you really know life at all? (an amazing version of Both Sides Now sung by Seal, who takes that song way, way down deep, making you respect Joni’s genius and the song’s lasting profundity. If you don’t think of it as profound, his version will change your mind).
Striving (often failing, but trying) to live and speak each day as if any moment could be my last, I remain,
your imperfectly independent,