I recently watched the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close for research purposes. I wasn’t expecting a major spiritual revelation to come about as a result of watching this, I just wanted to see their interpretation of Asperger’s Syndrome (“Disease” in the film) and see if I could recommend it as an accurate depiction. I had no idea what I was in for.
This post contains some SPOILERS for the movie, so if you’re planning on watching it because you know someone on the Autism spectrum then go and watch the movie first, then come back to this post and we’ll cry together. :’)
Things displayed by the child Oskar in the film which I could relate to both in my childhood and still in my adult life are: discomfort with loud noises, discomfort talking with people I don’t know, the need to analyze, fear of doing something wrong, fear of disapproval, and difficulty understanding/expressing emotions (other than frustration). In all of these categories I handle things significantly better now than when I was a child, at least in the sense that I can push past them for the most part to get done what needs to get done. There was some self-injury when I was a kid, but not since my teens. Temper tantrums were common as a child but declined as I matured, and today I can save my frustration to take out on virtual ninjas on the PS3.
Here’s where it gets emotional for me. There’s a scene where Oskar asks his mom, “I don’t tell you ‘I love you’ enough times, do I?” To which his mom proudly replies, “Yes, you do.”
Love is not completely foreign to me, but it is something I struggle with. It’s like Data from Star Trek: TNG, I don’t know that I can call it “love” but if a particular person were to suddenly be gone then I’d be keenly aware that something was missing.
For the first two decades of my life I never thought of my own mother as a person so much as something fulfilling the role of Mother. And even when I realized this, and felt that it was wrong, I didn’t know what I could do about it. I learned later on that she had actually been hiding her personality from the world – a personality which came out in recent years. We have a good friendship now. I realized that my misconception of her was not entirely the result of my autism, but I tend to assume that I’ve done something wrong.
After watching the movie I had dinner, finished off emails, kicked some ninja asses, then went to bed. It wasn’t until that quiet moment that I felt God say, “Do you get it now?”
I have some concerns about my Christian walk. There are plenty of commands about loving God with your whole being and above all else. But I don’t think I love God so much as I see him as something fulfilling the role of God, without which something would be missing. But I highly doubt that recognizing the necessity of a person or thing is the same as love. So I question that I’m really doing this Christian thing the way that I’m supposed to.
God spoke to me through the love of Oskar’s mother. She knows he tries, she knows he fails, she still loves him. He doesn’t think he’s enough, she says he is. He promises to be “normal”, that’s the last thing she wants. He says something hateful then comes back with “I didn’t really mean that” – she says “Yes you did” and loves him anyway.
I wish I were at the point that I could clearly see and love God’s personality, rather than simply express gratitude for what he’s done for me. But I no longer feel condemned for being where I am right now. God knows my weaknesses, he knows my heart, and he loves me anyway.