3/15/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

There are times, when I look at my daughter, that I feel like she must go around with her neck twisted and bent like a pipecleaner, trying to take in the world, trying to acclimate it, calibrate it, with her own unique perspective. There’s the way the world looks at itself; there’s the way Olivia looks at the world. There’s the way society interprets issues; there’s the way Olivia interprets issues. The world doesn’t see in black and white, it sees in color, but Olivia sees colors that we’ve never pulled out of a Crayola box.

We call how Olivia thinks Livvyonian. And frankly, her ways, her ideas, her world are pretty stunning.

When Olivia was in first grade, she defined autism for me. I asked her to still her stimming, those flapping dancing hands that we don’t see very often anymore. Back then, she said, “Oh, no, Mama. I need my hands. Sometimes my brain slips sideways and my hands bring it back.”

That slip-sliding brain. I love that slip-sliding brain. Talking to Olivia is like having a conversation with a kaleidoscope.

This past Tuesday was the first of three National School Walk-Out Days, a protest aimed at better gun control in our country, and as a result, safer schools. It was a hot issue over the last month. This morning, I read an article about a spokesperson from the NRA claiming that all the walk-outs weren’t protests at all, but memorials for the 17 who died in Parkland, Florida.

Talk about having a different perspective than the world. Holy cow. Though I have to say that denial is a whole different thing than autism. Autism isn’t dangerous. Denial is.

I’ve admired the student survivors of that school shooting. They are outspoken and passionate and they are determined to create change. Seeing the one young woman shout, “We call BS!” while firing fact after fact after fact and wiping tears from her face was just one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. I hope she runs for president.

But while I admired everything these kids have done, I wondered about my own daughter. Not everyone shouts. Not everyone marches. Not everyone waves signs and thrusts their fists in the air.  But a lack of volume does not mean shallow feelings.

Writer and theologian Mike Yaconelli said, “Boldness is quiet, not noisy.”

When the possibility for a school walk-out came up in our school district, we told Olivia we would support whatever she decided to do. “I want to walk out,” she said.

But we’ve known for a long time that Olivia has issues with big crowds. With loud noises. With chaos and disorganization. How does someone like that participate in a protest? How could she march?

Simple. We applied Livvonian principles.

A “walk-out” is just that. You walk out. You remove yourself from a place.

At 9:10 Tuesday morning, well ahead of any crowd, Olivia walked out of school. She marched across the parking lot and got into my car. We drove from the school to the park in front of our library, where a crowd was beginning to gather for an organized protest.

In a walk-out, you perform an action that indicates your feelings and beliefs.

Olivia waved at the protesters. I honked Hemi’s horn.

Then we came home, where for the next hour and a half, Olivia kept herself in a quiet place.

To be fully invested in a walk-out or a protest, you have to understand both sides of the issue. You have to consider the facts. And you have to think clearly on the subject.

Olivia used her walk-out time to work on poetry. She’s written two poems, thus far, about gun control. In one, she dove deep into empathy, writing from the pov of a shooter.   And in the other, she wrote from a victim’s pov.  In both, she wrote from her heart. And from that slip-sliding brain.

A “protester” doesn’t stop at a walk-out. A protester finds a way to truly change the system.

Olivia said to me, in her quiet way, “I can’t wait to vote.”

In the 2016 election, over half of our population did not feel compelled to vote. Many claimed to feel powerless, that their votes wouldn’t change anything.

Olivia will be 18 in October. She will not be powerless.

I think I have a girl who isn’t afraid to change the world, even if that world looks different to her than it does to the rest of us. And I think I have a girl who isn’t afraid to let her differences lead the way.

Kafka said, “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

Get ready to roll, world. Olivia, with her slip-sliding brain, sees you unmasked.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

What do they say about still waters?
Photo by Michael Giorgio, back in 2015.

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