I watched tonight’s “Uniquely Me” episode 3 – a docu-series featuring glimpses into different autistic lives in Singapore.
This episode is, for me, the most deeply confronting and profoundly gripping thus far. Maud and Edwin are twins, they are non-speaking autistics, celebrating their 35th birthday, together with their younger brother, who has learning disabilities. It could have been yet another emotionally cloying show about abject tragedy, or a piece of inspirational-porn about how heroic their mother is, for having three disabled children who need high levels of care. Yet, somehow, this mother transcends the swirling mire of theatrical wretchedness, walking with quiet, unassuming dignity beyond the temptation of sensationalism, and assumes a position of unassuming dignity. Of course, there are tears here and there, but this woman has my admiration for not succumbing to the dramatic, which so many in her position often do, given half the chance to express their pain to the world.
I watch Maud and Edwin closely, I read their faces, their bodies, their gestures, and I felt a corporeal, tangible and palpable connection with them at the most fundamental level of my own autistic Being. I’ve returned from a sensorially exacting social interaction, my throat is burning, sinuses inflamed, and head pounding. I cannot summon enough forceful intellectual, emotional and sensory strength to describe my experience of this episode in critical detail. My senses are raw, my mind worn, and I am inside an inarticulate near-wordless bubble, but I feel compelled to write this response, even if it were a brief one.
Mother Emalin carefully lays out Maud’s favourite belongings, preparing for her home visit. It struck me, perhaps even with a tinge of envy, how deeply, passionately and steadfastly this mother loves and cares for her daughter. The meticulous arranging of her things, the acceptance that this is what makes Maud who she is, and doing it painstakingly because she wants Maud to feel comfortable and happy to be home. Maud enters, and walks around her home, reconnecting with the elements. As Maud rearranges the small objects in her home, tiny symbols of her ownership, performing her rituals so puzzling yet so familiar to her mother, who lovingly tries to grasp her communications and respond appropriately, I feel a ‘knowing’ – it is that elemental empathic resonance that I wrote about in my PhD dissertation – inside my Space of Mind. I do not feel pity at all, but rather a respectful connectedness. There are no semantic words worthy of this, any further attempt to explain the tingling, singing of tiny electrical messages would cheapen it. My sadness is for the lonesomeness of Being: Maud knows that nobody is capable of truly understanding her world, even as she knows her mother loves her.
Maud and Edwin sit together, side by side, sometimes touching, other times not, but there is a powerful bond between. They live in separate care homes. The narration does not explain why, perhaps the homes cater to persons with different specific and levels of needs? Edwin is blind, and clearly traumatised by a previous accident in which he broke his leg. Their once a month visits are obviously meaningful occasions to both. My grief is for the lack of better facilitation for this family to live more fully supported lives together, and not separated like this, though everyone in the centres are doing their best, as are Emalin’s two close friends.
Once again, director BeeHar delivers a penetrating view, in the Singaporean context, without the kind of exaggerated melodrama that often proliferates most other shows like this. This is a window into the world of four gentle souls, linked together by a tender yet rugged kinship. I cannot weep for them, not because I do not see their obvious struggles, not because I do not feel their pain, but because they are not that kind of persons, and pity is not what one feels for such humble stateliness. My heart reaches out, it wants to touch them, it wants to say, “I know you,” and “Thank you for sharing this brief contemplation of your world.”
(More and more, now, I am wondering how my episode will turn out. I hope the director will show our similarities rather than differences, because I feel very much our Autistic Kinship of parallel embodiment and elemental empathy. Waiting for it on 11 June.)