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Autism: What a bunch of bananas

Sometimes a little humor goes a long way — even when coping with serious subjects — such as having a child with autism.

Eliza and Ethan Walmark

“Do you know who you remind me of?” a friend asked me the other day. “Forrest Gump?” I immediately answered. The days of people saying I remind them of Gwyneth Paltrow or Jennifer Aniston or even Tanya Harding! — you know, if seen at a certain angle with a certain hair style in a certainly very, very dark room by someone visually impaired — are long gone.

“No,” he said with dismissive annoyance, at once making clear he interpreted my honest and earnest reply as sarcastic, “You remind me of Bruce Almighty.”

First of all, what’s so terrible about Forrest Gump? Forrest clearly understood his intellectual limitations, as do I. (I’m not Mensa-material, but I’ve got 1,000,001 useless bits of trivia in my brain, which is always a real crowd pleaser.) At his core, Forrest was kind, decent and was incredibly lucky in life. So, why did I remind him of the down-on-his-luck lead character in Bruce Almighty?

Why Bruce?

Ethan Walmark

“Please elucidate,” I said. (Sometimes, I pepper sentences with SAT words to dispel the popular myth of being completely vapid and vacuous, but people think I’m ostentatious and obtuse, no doubt.)

He continued, “Bruce Almighty was blessed with the gift of making people laugh and smile. He felt like the victim of an unjust God. In the end, he discovered that his unique talent gave others and himself joy; the talent of bringing laughter to others in a dark world.” Oh.

The great equalizer

Before you shake your collective heads in disbelief about my narcissism, self-centeredness and/or arrogance, know this — I am all of those things. But I never based my self-worth or self-esteem on whether I was the smartest… or most educated… or prettiest… or wealthiest… or skinniest… or best dressed. My self-worth and self-esteem was based on my ability to make others laugh. My sense of humor was, somehow, someway, going to be “the great equalizer.”

The metaphorical banana peel

Ethan WalmarkThe New York Times Magazine recently ran an homage to noted journalist, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, producer and director Nora Ephron entitled “Nora Ephron’s Final Act.” The piece, written by Nora’s son Jacob Bernstein, lovingly showed his mother’s attitude toward illness and death:

“When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh,” she wrote in her anthology I Feel Bad About My Neck. “So you become the hero rather than the victim of the joke.”

I’m not Forrest. I’m not Bruce. I’m not Nora. What I am is a mother with a son who slipped on a metaphorical banana peel. Through a sense of humor and the many opportunities afforded to me because of my son, I intend to tell everyone about that metaphorical banana peel and the 1 in 88 banana peels just like him. Oh, and if you don’t think that’s humorous, let me tell you the one about a priest, a rabbi and a imam who walk into a bar…

Image credit: Allison Ziering Walmark

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Autism: You gotta be in it to win it

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