Oh wow! I woke up to a neat present in my Twitter notifications this morning, which prompted me to finally check my Primary email section – and here was this gem, sparkling, shimmering, waiting for the audience it so greatly deserves. And speaking of audience, y’all are wonderful!! ❤ OK, on with the writing – I can very much identify with sentiment of this gorgeous piece, except that he tells his story in much more vivid color and with greater talent than I ever could! 🙂 🙂
As somebody with autism, I often feel like an outsider living on the fringes of mainstream society. My behaviours compared to that of the majority population are seen as so different, so alien to most people, that I’m quite often made to feel like a foreigner in my home country. A similar sense of outsiderism is also felt by many new arrivals to my native England, many of whom insulate themselves in their own ethnic and cultural bubbles to preserve their unique way of life and customs. It’s for this reason that in my hometown of Bishop’s Stortford, where roughly 25% of residents are foreign-born, I’ve tended to distance myself over the years from the town’s majority British population and have instead become closer to its vibrant minority communities with whom I share a similar sense of otherness. Owing mainly to its proximity to London-Stansted Airport, the town is a veritable patchwork of multicultural groups living side by side, from Iranians to Italians, Pakistanis to Poles. For someone like me who is so enthused by other cultures and the contributions they can bring to a host society, it’s a fun place to be. One moment, I’ll be at the Sicilian cafe sipping espresso and nibbling cannoli next to elders from Corleone and Ragusa, then the next, chowing down on homemade dhal and khandvi with East African Gujuratis who came to the UK to flee persecution.
The first person I got to know when I moved to Bishop’s Stortford 2 years ago was Duarte, a Portuguese immigrant from the island of Madeira who originally came here to work as a truck driver. In the UK he met his wife, had a child and he now runs a successful bar and restaurant which specialises in the cuisine of his homeland. He’s a very outgoing and amiable guy and we get on well, even with me being the awkward introvert I am. However, despite his material success here he confides in me that he yearns for his island home, where the pace of life is slow, the people are warm and the food is superb. I also confide in him that Brits don’t as a whole tolerate my eccentricities too well and often judge me negatively because of them. We both chuckle that Brits tend to be a pretty stuck-up and pompous bunch. To that, we toast with a complimentary glass of passionfruit poncha, a delicious Madeiran liqueur made by Duarte himself. In the company of him and his Portuguese expat pals, many of whom do menial jobs like factory work and cleaning, I needn’t be on my guard. They’re totally relaxed about me, my eccentric nature, my autism and my unconventional hand movements. It’s simply not a big deal to them which is cool.
The same is true of my friend Dawa, an Indian immigrant of Tibetan origin, who works as a postman in the town and is well known among locals for his colourful and eccentric persona. He arrived in the UK 15 years ago and has striven to maintain his Buddhist placidity and cheery Tibetan temperament in a culture known for its cynicism and self-centeredness. I first approached Dawa when I bumped into him while shopping at a local Asian grocery shop. From his appearance, I couldn’t immediately guess where he originated from but after he told me Tibet I immediately became enthusiastic and, like a typical Aspie, unloaded a tonne of information on him that I had absorbed recently from a stack of Buddhist literature I’d been reading. Here was an authentic born-and-bred and practicing in the flesh, I thought, who was more than happy to chat to me for hours on the subject, discussing everything from samadhi to sunyata. From then on, we’ve enjoyed tea and tsampa, a Tibetan staple of pounded barley, together at his home and have waxed lyrical on Buddhist philosophy, the plight of the Tibetan people and even more banal topics like football for literally hours on end. He confessed to me that most Brits barely expressed any interest in his homeland, its unique way of life and its rich Buddhist culture and tradition. In the 15 years he’s been here, I was the first to enable him to share his world of compassion, meditation and prayer wheels which he spins religiously every morning to send out positive thoughts to those around him with a native Brit. Also, my autism isn’t in the least bit problematic for him. If anything, he believes it has made me a more compassionate and richer person. In his company, my idiosyncrasies are less apparent and seem in even mild in comparison!
For people with autism, finding our niche in a world that is often hostile to our very nature isn’t easy. For many, this means finding common ground with fellow autistic and neurodivergent folk, but for me I found common ground with those, who different reasons, don’t quite fit in as expected.
- Tom Clements on Twitter – if you’re not following him yet, I highly encourage doing so!
- “An Autistic Love Story” – published on The Art Of Autism.
- “The Autistic Buddha: My Unconventional Path To Enlightenment” – published on The Art Of Autism.
- “Asperger Syndrome” – a poem by Tom, posted on this blog.
- “An Aspie Who Lives With His Grandmother” – the amazing writing by Tom from yesterday, posted on this blog