This week our ninth grade son decided to leave school and walk home. In a typical situation, this might not be a big deal (except for the skipping school part). However, add in the fact that he is on the Autism Spectrum and walked 6.2 miles across Boulder’s concrete jungle, crossing major highways and busy streets, encountering several displaced strangers along the way, and relying only on his photographic memory, this was quite a feat.
After we got the call from the high school that he was “missing” and the cops were called, Mark jumped in the truck and went to look for him. I tried to take deep breaths, my mind racing. Luckily, two minutes later Mark called. “I’ve got him!” He was limping down the highway, just a block from home. Pure relief and a lot of hugs.
He said he just wanted some quiet. The school was too noisy and there were too many people. He said nobody cared about anybody else. Everyone was just into themselves. He'd had enough. So he followed some kids outside that were leaving for lunch and then he went his own way…home. I couldn’t be angry with him. I get it. I really get it.
And it reminded me of a story of another eccentric soul that wanted to go home. Mark and I have been watching a lot of Pink Floyd documentaries lately, and something about Syd Barrett, one of the founding member of the early years, fascinates me. His eyes are familiar and I find myself thinking about him a lot.
Many people claim Syd went crazy and was possibly schizophrenic (thus references in the song “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”). However, digging a little deeper, it is evident Syd didn’t like the hectic schedule and pressures that came with being a superstar. There are accounts that he had Asperger-like traits. Whether or not Syd used LSD to cope with the anxiety and the demands of the band and damaged his mind, it is evident that he was a musical genius. He was fragile and without the resilience to handle it all, he eventually had enough.
It is documented that he walked forty miles from London to Cambridge to his mother’s house, where he stayed for the rest of his life. And while some see this as a waste, it is very possible Syd ended up living happily, engaging in a simple, quiet lifestyle doing his own thing, his days filled with art and gardening.
Syd once said, “I’ve got a very irregular head. And I’m not anything that you think I am anyway.”
We live in a pretty standardized world where only “regular” is tolerated. We standardize everything so that we can measure up. I guess humans tend to do that. Competition is fierce and rampant. And let’s face it, there’s a lot of money to be made in standardization. It can be a catalyst to herd mentality, promoting the fear of missing out and getting behind.
We standardize education (test scores and grades) and housing (think about cookie-cutter McMansion developments). We even standardize music because playing pop music with the regular formula of five notes and four chords played in a Major Key is what attracts listeners and sells (or is it corporate radio playing the same songs over and over again until they’re stuck in our heads?).
Standardizing means normalizing, systematizing and conforming. And in all fairness, standardization used appropriately can save time and keep people safe.
But when we “standardize” people, problems arise. Comparing one another based on a set of artificial principles only leads to isolation.
It is okay for those with irregular heads to find happiness in non-standardized ways. It’s okay for all of us. Maybe we all need to find the irregularity in our minds that lends itself to creativity and originality, imagination over stagnation. Letting go of pre-conditioned thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others and the world around us sets us free. It opens, instead of closes. It provides a foundation for acceptance and compassion for differences. It opens our hearts to those that have fragile, yet profoundly deep souls.
Machines were meant to be standardized. People’s needs were meant to be customized.
And sometimes, you just need quiet to figure it all out. And a long walk home…