We are born alone, live alone, die alone. My existential existence might be an excuse. I am really an individual or just too scared to trust other people.
I met this man. Just once. Just six and twenty crazy hours of being with someone who accepted me. He didn’t just accept me for being me, though that in itself would be awesome, he accepted me into his life. He moved over and made some space for me and without words he said walk with me a while.
I love words but he showed me in his deeds who he thinks I am. He sees a me I haven’t seen. He knows a someone I had forgotten I once wanted to be. When he left me, he didn’t leave because he lingers in my mind.
I met this man. Just once. I was born alone and I might die alone but I think I might want to walk with him a while. I won’t throw caution to the wind but I might put it away along with my fears and live life. I will meet this man again but he has already changed my existence.
When I look inside myself I am constantly disappointed. I want to be a better person, so why do I fail? Surely at 51, I should be who I want to be.
I suppose I should contextualise this. I am not a bad person. I teach in secondary school and I am considered to be a fair teacher. I am not popular or cool, but I think most of my pupils view me as a kindly soul.
Outside of work I am not an axe murderer. I have a few good friends. I don’t steal, and I am as honest a man as you are ever likely to meet.
It is this honesty that is my downfall. Because it is combined with an analytical capability to finely dissect the events of the day, each day’s weaknesses are laid bare. My Aspergerian compassion is applied with its usual “could do better” assessment, so I judge myself, over and over again, as lacking.
Though I claim not to aspire to sainthood, I indulge in this mental flagellation over my inability to epitomise perfection. I have hurt myself over the years and at times, withdrawing to lick the wounds I try to keep hidden, have hurt those who tried to comfort me.
I don’t know if I can change. However this is my start. My biggest weakness is not that I don’t accept others, it is that I do not truly accept myself. If I say that out loud, perhaps it will scare me less. If I acknowledge it perhaps you will scare me less when you notice. If I am not scared perhaps I will allow you to help me.
I will never be perfect. I may never be a better person than I am now. Accepting that, however, might just make me a happier one.
I don’t make friends easily. What I find hard to understand is why I would want to. What is a friend is not someone to love and trust. Friendships are as complex as a well written book and not a throwaway thought you find in a celebrity magazine or an online blog.
Maybe it’s semantics, but for me the word friend is something special. In my mind, it conjures up people who I can laugh and relax with. Someone I can talk to about anything. A person that has and brings meaning to my life. Other people think I should have more friends. Personality surveys score me low on friendliness and gregariousness. I will not apologise because I am not unfriendly nor am I unkind. I just don’t make myself available to all and sundry.
Most of the people I know are distant or are kept distant. I think of them as acquaintances. People to share a coffee or an anecdote in my daily life. My work colleagues are great people and I would do a lot for them. However they are not the people I love or confide in. They are like magazines in a waiting room. They can be picked up and put down and they are not something I have chosen.
I love my friends. I love the small group of people that I share my secret inner world with. Some of my friends are like me and have equally small friend networks but others have vast swathes of friends. What they all have in common is spending time with me one to one and doing quiet things. My few friendships are all unique but each relationship is built on a firm foundation of love, trust and honesty. I know my friends like my my favourite novels. They are there to be read and reread, to be held in my heart with favourite scenes that live in the memory.
We are all different. I will keep my favourite books in my heart always. Not a library, but just few carefully selected titles that have changed my world.
Her blue jacket is beautifully graphic and I lose myself for a moment. The lines of white and grey intersect, forming squares within endless squares to consider and reconsider. Her face, though equally lined, is softer, less mathematical. It’s human. Life has been witnessed, lived and ultimately survived with a quiet dignity.
Having dismounted from an ancient bike, which is possibly older her, she passes through the early morning coffee drinkers. Each is addressed with a low, gentle voice and an open smile. Few refuse this woman, for her poise and grace starkly highlight that life can be far from fair.
Finally, she comes to me. Her smile becomes a soft chuckle and there is an impish, mischievous glint in her eyes. Unlike her back, her spirit is unbowed. She offers me her lottery tickets, fanned out for my perusal. We both know I don’t really understand what she is selling and that I don’t speak the language. However, she chooses to include me in her day and as she looks directly into my eyes I see the kindness of one who has known what it means to be left out.
She remounts her bicycle and cycles away but she has left me behind, knowing that happiness isn’t found in a winning ticket.
Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. Something or someone happens and you, for some reason, decide it’s an avenue you want to pursue.
Life is quite a journey. Birth is followed by education, work, love, rest and death. This mortal coil spins faster as we age, and most of us are far too merry to get off. The Asperger Path has been a happy, but somewhat more disorderly, route through life’s conventions.
Actually, I took a detour long ago, and discovered life could be neither straight or narrow. I broadened my mind, loosened my inhibitions, and allowed myself to be open to opportunity’s knock. I have lived in kinky meanders and loved with spacious permissiveness.
It’s time to leap and faith is my parachute and . If I land safely, I will let you know.
Ooooh. Fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ free
Donna Summer is on repeat in the juke box of my mind. It’s time for some free falling because I feel love, conventional, old fashioned, ‘you and me’ love.
Once upon a time there was a man who was happy. He was a humble man who didn’t do much, but as he went through life he sang and smiled at the people he passed by. He had his place in the world and he never stopped to think.
One day he was accosted by an angry woman. “When you smile,” she said, “you only see your own happiness from inside . Why don’t you think about other people.” The happy man stopped and he thought. It was true. All his life he had been so happy and he had never wondered about anyone else. He just sang and smiled at people even if they were feeling sad. He looked around and he saw all the sadness in the world and his smile disappeared. He felt terrible inside because he had never noticed the pain of life around him. Now he had seen it, he could feel it, and he was sad too.
A few days later he was stopped in the street again. “Where is your smile?” the stranger asked. “I see you everyday as you go about your business and your smile makes my heart sing.” The once happy and now sad man recounted the tale of the woman he had met a few days earlier. “That woman was a witch.” the stranger exclaimed. “You give so many people a little happiness with your smile. You are not a bad person just because you have so much joy in your heart that you cannot hide it on your face.”
The once happy now sad man stopped to think again. He knew there was happiness inside him and he decided to let it out. “If other people are unhappy,” he thought, “maybe my smile and my songs will make them happier. Being unhappy too doesn’t seem to help.”
So the once happy, then sad but now happy again man lived on in his own happy world. He walked along with a smile and song, not doing much except giving out happiness to anyone who wanted it. The world was a happier place because he was in it.
On my travels, I turn to no one. When I see wonders, I see them alone. My experiences are shared at arms length for there is, by my side, nothing but empty space.
This is how I have shaped my life. I enjoy the sparsity of my emotional landscape. Friends and lovers, colleagues and thinkers, writers and artists all bring much to my life but none are my partner, my confidante or my other half. Some are more transient than others, but none are as impermanent in themselves as myself.
I am whole in my self constructed solitude and, when I steer clear of holes, this square peg travels quite comfortably. Life is lived, large and sprawling, for I am a nomad passing by and experiencing all that my senses can withstand. My social circle, by comparison, is kept small and tidy. The Asperger Path is my route and I navigate a way through this world with heart and mind as my map and compass.
So, when I see the world and I want to share it with someone, I choose the most intimate strangers I know. I choose you, dear readers. For you are sparse and far flung. If I want you, I can send fire off my missive into the void. Even if my message is never read, it is sent.
For me, that act of sharing is enough.
I travel alone. Perhaps we all do. The universe surrounds us but we are here locked inside our sensory, sense making brain. We see, hear,smell, taste and touch the world. However what I am sensing is totally unique and bears no relation to the sensations my neighbour creates.
I travel alone. I am not frightened of my own company. I amuse myself and confuse myself and can even look myself in the eye. An able contortionist, I can pat myself on the back though the need doesn’t arrive too often. I am my own best friend and yet I am not hermetically sealed.
I travel alone. I have left you behind, I haven’t yet met you or maybe our paths will never cross. I have stopped wanting to be an us and I have allowed myself to be me. I will not be lost in the world of compromise where everybody goes somewhere that nobody truly wanted to see.
I travel alone because I am not the centre of my universe. I travel like the stars, a pattern in my path that I have not designed and a rhythm in my life that makes me part of something greater than myself.
I travel alone and yet I am not alone. I both am and am not. I travel alone and in doing so create hundreds and thousands of micro relationships. Each is real and unique and has the potential to generate energy and change. My energy is diffused and suffused into the world and I receive power from all around me. I am a fraction of so many wholes and I am a million beautiful fragments of the people who have touched my life.
I travel alone with the universe
I took a walk along the river today. I wandered down under the shady trees and crossed over on the bridge that usually takes me to work on my bicycle. I stopped for a bite to eat with the barbecue pork lady before heading north. So many times I have walked passed the pagoda there, meaning to stop, but somehow I never find the time.
Today I found I had time to spare. My tummy was full of rice and I was feeling in the mood for a meander. For me the temple itself was not the main attraction though it is undeniably beautiful. It is surrounded by other buildings as most temples are in Cambodia, but in Battambang the architecture always seems just a little more special.
I wandered about and took a few snaps and then headed north along the eastern river bank. It was a cool morning and it’s been a while since I just went for a walk. Up to the bridge that takes Highway Number 5 over the muddy brown Sangker river. I wandered up to the ferry terminal and found myself a coconut to satisfy a niggling thirst then abandoned the river for the frangipani shaded walk east.
My last leg reminded me that this seemingly sleepy city is in fact the second largest town in Cambodia. After my dreamy walk where I felt quite alone with my thoughts I turned south and soon was in the happy midst of daily Khmer life. Psar Boeung Chhouk teems with people. The Psar Nath may be the landmark market hall but Boeung Chhouk market is were people come to shop in droves.
Four months I have lived in this city. It still fills me with wonder, charms me senseless and brings a smile to my face. Sok Sabay I say to almost everyone I meet. Peace and happiness is easy to find in Battambang.
Cambodia is a land that got lost in time. A dictator came along and declared Year Zero and tried to recalibrate the society into an agrarian socialist utopia. The ‘new people’, teachers, artists and intellectuals were purged and tortured in the genocide that followed. After years of bombing from the Americans and bitter civil war Cambodia decided to inflict even more lasting damage upon itself. The aftermath is apparent but I feel powerless to help because I’m not sure what I can do.
Cities were deserted and the people were returned to the land. Those that weren’t tortured faced starvation or hard labour and in two years about a quarter of the population were dead. Mass graves, horror and destruction were left as the Khmer Rouge were pushed back from the capital by the advancing Vietnamese liberators.
Now Cambodia faces new challenges. A prime minister who has been in power for decades and whose role in the Khmer Rouge is still vague, rules a country that is lurching into the twenty first century. Rapid urbanisation, modernisation and industrialisation carry on seemingly unregulated. Any attempts to preserve habitats and cultures are hindered by corruption at all levels. In Cambodia there are many complex and conflicting needs which are failing to be met. Sadly many of Cambodia’s population are as poor now as they ever were.
One the legacies of this newly democratic kingdom is waste. You see it everywhere. In a country with so many issues is it a liberal European concern that Cambodia is choking to death on plastic. Perhaps it is, but I am as liberal and European as they come. Plastic Free Cambodia launches today and I will do my bit. This country could be a jewel in Asia’s crown with its diverse habitats and amazing ecosystems. Mighty lakes and rivers dominate the country but, if they end up polluted and choking, Cambodia could find its still largely agricultural population falling victim once again to a leadership whose primary concern is not the welfare of its people.
While I am here, just a visitor passing through, I can ensure I inflict as little damage as possible. I can’t stop illegal logging or palm oil plantations but I can say no thank you when I’m offered a plastic bag.