Autism and the present of presence

Lena Rivkin


It’s that time of year again when everything speeds up, when TV commercials relentlessly remind us of what people might ‘need’ and we turn ourselves inside out to get everything crossed off our to do lists for the holidays.

Yet we tend to get lost in our lists. We become so consumed by what we need to do that we forget why we are doing it at all. All I see around me are angry drivers, furious shoppers and exhausted parents of baffled children who wonder why their parents are so aggravated when it’s supposed to be the ‘happiest time of the year.’

Time itself seems the gift everyone truly needs… “Time to get those computer-printed holiday cards to my 250 closest family and friends stamped and off to the post office!!” - We don’t even take the 10 extra seconds to jot a personal message to the people we love enough to send the computer printed card to in the first place!

When we take a breath and look around at the world of miraculous details around us and when we remember to be as curious as a child, our lists and chores melt away in the pureness of the moment- which is all we really have and is the gift that truly keeps on giving. Curiosity keeps us young and grateful and appreciative of the littlest wonders which we forget to notice but which are all around us.

My art students are my breath of fresh air- their questions and thirst for knowledge are blessed reminders to me to stay curious and remain grateful for what I can teach. Seeing the light go on inside a young student who grasps the concept of perspective is worth twelve years of Fruit of the Month Club boxes.

Spending Thanksgiving with my autistic brother Phillip reminds me to enjoy the food and comfort to be found in the company of loved ones. Phillip doesn’t care if the stuffing recipe was from Epicurious.com or Saveur.com- he appreciates it because it was made and it is warm and tastes good. And while his curiosity might be more about what mysteries lie in the bottom of my purse than in the content of my conversation, he reminds me that showing up and sharing my time and presence with him is more important than anything else I can find at the mall. And what does Phillip want to do more than anything else? Make cupcakes with me. Last time I checked, that wasn’t something I could priority mail in a special holiday themed box.

My holiday wish for all the people who are scrambling to get their Amazon.com orders complete and who can't wait for the holidays to be over- for all the people who, once the holidays are over, will wonder why they always feel they missed the joy of the holiday season… you did. You forgot to stay curious. Put "STAY CURIOUS" on the top of your list for next year.

Then throw out your list. And go for a walk.

Lena Rivkin, M.F.A., is an artist and graphologist living in Los Angeles.


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