One thing a lot of people wonder about autistic people is whether or not they can appreciate deeper matters that require a certain understanding of the world. The popular cliché about them is they seem to have a "world of their own" and that world is usually thought of as childish and/or autistic--which is where the syndrome gets its name, by the way. Autism is a symptom that was thought to characterize another psychiatric disorder: dementia praecox
, better known today as schizophrenia. It is a drawing into oneself, a near-absolute self-absorption so strong it excludes the world around the person.
But ha, I digress. The point is, autistic people often have some sign of social dysfunction. They do not relate very well with people not because they are inherently avoidant but because they are so self-absorbed, they would not. Of course, a caveat to this description: autistic syndrome or autism spectrum disorder as it is better known today is not all about the autism symptom. There's more to it, but that is a discussion for another day.
Now, someone who doesn't meld with society would have an understandable difficulty understanding social contexts and cues. My youngest brother Fidel does have this difficulty. And yet, there are moments when I think he might be more socially insightful than even we, his family, give him credit for.
We were watching a documentary about Francisco de Goya's El Tres de Mayo
. That's this painting:
Now, toward the end of the film, a close-up of the central figure in white was shown:
He is the Spaniard about to be shot by Napoleon's soldiers. He is facing death straight in the eye, almost literally. Out of plain curiosity, I wondered what my brother thought of this figure's obvious suffering. So I asked him:
"Fidel, how does the man feel?"
Fidel looked at the TV screen, then looked at me. Then he gave a chillingly haunting answer.
Yes, at the moment of death, each of us, regardless of the nature of our imminent demise, is alone. It's a truth so simple and yest so profound...and definitely one of the least likely things to be stated so offhandedly by someone who's supposedly so detached from "the rest of us".
Methinks we underestimate Fidel and people of his ilk far too much.