By Keri Bowers

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as a major metropolis attempts to regain its momentum, infrastructure and equilibrium, I sit this Halloween – a very cold evening – on the stoop of a Brooklyn brownstone.

A JUXTAPOSITION

I watch as children in costumes, flanked by loving, diligent parents, trick or treat on 5th Avenue. A girl of about 5 catches my eye. She sits on top of her daddy’s shoulders. Happily and excitedly squealing, she calls out the inaudible names of the children whom she knows gathered across the street at a Halloween event. I am amused if not enlightened. She is wearing a Snow White costume with a Batman mask. I cannot help but smile at the juxtaposition of her chosen costume.

All that is light and good (and dare I say, great marketing on Disney’s behalf) in contrast to the dark mask of a mega-superhero in whom we find victory because he inevitably saves the day… I think we all want for our days to be saved. I chuckle and smile. I thank the powers that be, thinking about life and how simple it is – and yet how hard it is at times.

I am warmed, despite the chill in the air, when little Snow/bat’s daddy nods and smiles in my direction. I cannot help but smile back and repay a nod of approval. I wish I had my camera. I want to take a photo of her on his shoulders. This is a Kodak or Fugi moment for sure. In a very odd way, this child reminds me of what is and what is not real.

A day and a half after the biggest Sandy storm of destruction in decades in Manhattan, New Jersey and Brooklyn, life goes on. Children laugh with delight in asking strangers for candy (there’s another blog about that all by itself, right?) They know not about the forces of nature and the consequences of strangers. They just “are.”

And so this itsy bitsy girl has no idea how she affects me. Halloween continues and children smile, laugh and giggle. They are so young an innocent. They do not know or understand that in these past days people have lost their homes, power, paychecks, and even their lives.

Trick or treat! They delight… It is awe-inspiring to imagine myself way-back-when. Childlike; unaware that life is hard, only asking for candy from a stranger.

TOGETHER IN TIMES OF TRAGEDY

And yet somehow people come together in tragedy. In these times, we tend to forget our egos. We put our personal agendas aside – for at least a day or two – and we reach out to others. We pull together in disastrous times like we do in no others.

I remember when I lost my home in the ’94 earthquake in California, people came together. Strangers. Neighbors we never said hello to came together at our invitation to eat the food that would otherwise perish. The streets, our homes, the power. It was a mess. Yet all the neighbors came, bonded as one.

The we watched after 911 as people came together to support one another. Unity, as if we were one. I amuse myself with the thought that If we could all remain child-like, loving, forever…we would always “be” together and help others. We would always trick or treat.

METAPHORS AND AUTISM…

Metaphorically, this reminds me of autism and our community. It is a bitter-sweet juxtaposition of love, life, and the sweetness of pulling ourselves together in the midst of the unimaginable sorrow, despair and challenge that follows a diagnosis – a metaphor for the storm… Hopefully – in times of struggle – we do indeed pull it together and become the best versions of ourselves, leaving if only for a moment, our fears behind to bond and unite with others.

We become the girl in the Snow White dress and the Batman mask. Together, we are invincible.

In autism, we walk a path solidarity, hopeful as a united front. This is the path of “ISM”where we help one another to share resources, support, and stories. Yet we also put on our respective masks. The hero… The light that overcome the darkness… or sadly, the victim… We choose on some level who we are and who we will be.

WHO ARE YOU CHOSING TO BE?

Hopefully we attempt to be positive. Whole, present and proactive as is the driven snow of Snow White. To create a future of possibilities, we cannot indulge in the mask of the antagonist of this real life drama. We must become the lead player in possibilities.

100 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE

Weeks ago, I had put together a group of amazing friends and colleagues to walk together in the Village Halloween Parade for autism. To my knowledge, no group has ever walked in this parade for this particular cause. The theme of the parade this year was “Tick Tock.” Our banners were intended to read: “Autism is Timeless” in keeping with the parade’s theme. But the best laid plans, as they say, were not to be.

Slated as one of the 100 things to do before you die, the Village Halloween was canceled this year as everything downtown of 34th street was flooded and/or electricity was defunct and no mass transit was available. A change in plans, and I am reminded how plans change. Despite our intentions, our plans have changed and we must change with them. And so, “Hallowed are we.”

When we learn our child has autism, all plans change. None of our dreams, our plans are so-called real anymore. Fate knocks upon our door and tells us there is something different in store for us. No, you are not going to the left… instead you are going to the right.

And so we adjust. We put on our masks and brave the upcoming storm.

ONE PERSPECTIVE, MINE…

Putting this all into perspective for me is important. I have had one hall-of-a year. I have lost most of what was dear to me. My home, my livelihood, and some family. My son is 23 and still needs my support and unconditional love – not to mention my intervention. Autism does not go away. It transcends. It does not look, at 23, like it looks a 5, but it is after all, autism.

My friends have been constant. For that, I am grateful, thank and adore them. But that does not change the fact that plans change and I must put on a costume and mask to be in the world. My loved ones just want me to be okay. Mostly I am okay, but sometimes I am not. Despite this facts, I too, can trick or treat in the storm.

What has been your storm? What mask do you wear? How have you come together to create support?