I was in the lobby when those first notes from “Circle of Life” broke through at the autism-friendly Autism Speaks-supported Lion King at the Boston Opera House. I was standing just outside the doors, as Main Floor Navigator, in the lobby with the actors about to walk through the doors onstage. They were the animals coming to see the new baby Lion. I stepped backwards to give them more room. I felt like a child allowed to be at the adult party. All around me the actors had their costumes half-on, with the masks on the floor, at their feet. Huge hairy water buffalo heads rose from the ground like monoliths; a ghostly translucent giant rhinoceros, made of blue grey papery ribcage and thick tree-trunk legs materialized off to my left. They all tensed at that first call; then there was a velvety hush in the lobby, and they answered as one, a capello, angel-like,,getting into their roles, summoning all that clear, half-whispered awe in those syllables. The doors opened, and they strode into the theater, through the audience. I felt chills, and tears sprang to my eyes. A profound beginning, but also, so many memories swirling around me, carrying me away on their sweet tide. My first two babies,Natty, 3 1/2, and 18 month old Maxie, sitting in the backseat of our little red Honda Civic hatchback at the Wellfleet Drive-In on Cape Cod. It was Max’s first movie.
The animals all sang to their new tiny king to pay homage, a blast of brilliant hue, animal shapes, a cacophony — really a symphony of cries, so loud, so moving — filled our ears. Then, as if a plug is pulled from a bathtub, the sound is sucked away and it’s all dark.
“What dis movie?” Little Max asked me, thinking that the opening scene was the entire film — it was that huge to him. Oh Maxie! You were so little you didn’t even know that. Even then you were fascinated with film. Who knew you’d grow up to graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the arts, a camera artist, a budding cinematographer?
But I’m getting behind — and ahead of myself. Yesterday Max wasn’t there, but Nat was, now almost 25. Wearing the same oversized yellow lion face tee shirt as Ned and all the other adult volunteers. We were all there to navigate, assist, calm, and bask in this beautiful Autistic Assembly, this army of parents and caregivers, for once not fighting bureaucracy, school systems, or sad wistful taunting dreams. They were there, at peace, accepted and loved. Some guys didn’t make it through the next scene. Ned told me parents would come up to him, he was an usher, and say, “We just have to — ” And he’d say, “It’s okay,” and point the way to the calming room, or the exit, or the bathroom. One friend came out with her grown son (who had her very same face) (I’d never met him, I got to meet so many of my Autism friends’ kids). This friend said to me, “I think we’re going to declare victory…” Ned turned to me and said, “Was she thinking of my words?” So long ago, Ned had come up with our family mantra: “Declare victory, then get the hell out.” Meaning, we, the family, would set the terms of success. We would decide how much of this moment in time we could get through and then we could leave feeling triumphant.
Yesterday we were all triumphant. The Opera Workers seemed delighted. The actors hummed with their energy and ours. The “regular” world had met us and welcomed us. We were surrounded, and embraced, by a Circle of Friends.
Okay, and here is my latest Washington Post Oped, about my troubles with Facebook. It’s all true, bro. Yeah, it’s already up on FB, too.