Sometimes the thing you expect is just not in the cards. Latest example: I co-hosted an autism-friendly Halloween party last Saturday with two other friends to raise money for a favorite cause, Mass Advocates for Children’s new Autism Center. MAC is known for helping families with legal issues, as well as their research and statewide autism advocacy. They focus on low-income and minority families who may be less able to navigate school system special education than others.
When Jude, Tere and I first sat down to plan this we were thinking primarily of the little kids with autism who might have a hard time with the typical Halloween tradition of walking haphazardly through a neighborhood in the dark, in a strange likely uncomfortable outfit, ringing doorbells of strangers, yelling “chickacheet” or some other nonsense word, choosing among candies, and then NOT BEING ALLOWED TO EAT THEM. A sensory nightmare, but my favorite holiday all year. Dress-up and candy were and still are some of my absolute happiest things to experience. As a kid I planned my costume months ahead. As I got older I figured in clever layers for warmth so that my mom would not ruin my costume with my stupid snow jacket. And in my forties I started bellydancing, so that I could always surround myself legitimately with colorful sparkly costumes.
But Nat did not get Halloween and it was a great sorrow of mine. A selfish sorrow, because did it really matter that he could not see the good in the strange rituals illustrated above? Of course not, but I had had such high expectations of the fun I’d have with my kids on Halloween. Eventually Halloween became a new behavioral task, where we aimed to have Nat wear some form of costume, say the appropriate words to the stranger who opened the door, and wait til we go home to eat the candy. Whether once around the block or only three houses, if Nat could do those things, we would, as Ned put it, “declare victory and then get the hell out.” But over the years, Nat figured out Halloween and mastered it. He always wants to be Zorro. He even shopped for his sword and hat — with a fervor I have never seen in a store — and he insists on it every year.
So planning for this party was not about Nat’s needs. I knew he’d enjoy it. This was for the kids who might like some aspect of Halloween, and could enjoy it in their own way — stuffing themselves with treats while leaping all over the yard in a tophat, getting their pictures taken in the special photobooth, jumping in the bounce house. And I was the fortune teller: a perfect way to wear a gorgeous garish costume all day long.
This role was perfect for me in another way. About 20 years ago I learned how to read Tarot cards. I did not believe in them, however; I may be a flaky Libra, but I could never bring myself to be convinced that there was some greater plan for any of us, no matter how prettily or shockingly coincidental the cards shook out. I did, however, find that the cards were a good tool to organize my thoughts and feelings, to determine what it was that was bothering me at the moment, or even to figure out what I wanted to do about a given circumstance. And if nothing else, they were fun.
I removed every scary card from my deck, like Death, or The Tower, anything with sorrow, figuring that I would be reading for children who might be more literal than most. I set up my little round table with a lace tablecloth and silver tulle that glinted like diamonds in that blinding fall sun. As if planned, dragonflies kept landing on the shiny tabletop, adding their magic. I told people that I usually just deal one or two cards and somehow the kid’s fortune would always end up being something like, “Oh, wow, this shows that you’re a good student, is that true?”
What I did not expect was that most of my “clients” were the parents, not the kids. Many of these people were autism parents I know in one way or another — our community’s connectedness is international and legendary. So there I was, in my splashy, bindi-infested regalia, asking them to cut the cards in the actual Tarot fashion, and doing an abbreviated, partly made-up form of a real Tarot layout. Because these were adults and people I cared about, I found myself trying remember the basic meanings, and if not, to offer ones that made sense. The parent would listen with wide eyes, and think about each card I interpreted. Sometimes I would pause, thinking, “Oh man that sounded stupid,” but then the parent would consider it and tell me what it meant in his or her life. From that, the reading would grow more intuitive, and then, more — well, accurate. Parents were asking me if they should move back into the corporate world or work from home, or if I could affirm great love in their marriage. and I found I could help them without telling them what to do. Sometimes we’d ignore the cards and they would just pour their heart out to me.
At first I was taken aback by this naivete. I thought to myself, “don’t they know it’s just me?”
But of course they did. And the more people who sat before me, the more connected I felt to them, and my readings. I started taking it all more seriously, because they were. Somehow the quiet corner of this energetic party provided a feeling of safety for them, and the deck of cards a bridge between us. I realized something: they just wanted someone to talk to, outside of their usual life. Somehow, being me-but-not-me helped create a connection that left every single one of my readees smiling. “Eerily accurate,” a few people said. But it was not because of me. It was because of that moment in time, the day. The special gathering of our special kids, so well-loved, so weighted with our hopes for them, provided us all with a flash of time when we were not serious, or worried, but winged and light — and utterly completely ourselves.