Intristic Worth does prolong lives, especially mine.
There is this article that talked about the short life expectancy of Autistic people, written by Sarah Kurchak who just turned 36. 36 is the average life expectancy of Autistic people, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health.
I am 39.
What makes Kurchak’s article so wrenching was this quote:
“I do value the social and career gains that I made while I had more energy and inclination to blend into society, but I’m less enthralled with the exponentially increasing bit of chronic anxiety that appears to have come along with them. I repeatedly have to explain to people that I’m not a math savant. There is, however, one calculation that I’m always doing in my head: whether my contributions to my family, friends, and the world is at least equal to all that I feel like I’m taking from it. No matter how I try to add it up, I always feel like I’m at a deficit.”
I too feel that pain, and damn it, I am doing my best to bridge that gap between “leech” and “productive.” I was aware of that when I was a Conservative teen. I did not want to take SSI as an adult because I would have to be permanently dependent on it. I do not want to be a leech, I want to prove society wrong. So I thought I will do this with my own power and go to college and get married and get a job.
That changed on 9 May 2005. Exile.
Thoughts of worthlessness. I was unemployed.
Thanks to an Obama-era programme* offered by Easter Seals, I got job skills and I became open about my autism. I was underemployed, but at least I had some job. But I was still wondering when I will ever bridge that gap between “leech” and “productive”.
It was the horse racing industry that changed all of that. The work I did during the 2016 Triple Crown season helped me immensely because my managers saw my worth as a productive human being. They presumed my competence.
Being productive is one thing. Good and salutary. But being recognised for my intrinsic worth is another thing. The people in the Church only offered me pity and lip service about me being made in the Imago Dei. They are too busy fighting culture wars via politics to take the time to serve the “least of these.” They would rather read the latest salvo from The Federalist than to actually take interest in individuals and *serve* their neighbor. It is as if I have to prove that I am worthy by behavior and production to receive worth and service.
I believe in intrinsic worth no matter what society thinks of me. It is from God, not by humans. It cannot be earned. It is imbued in every human being, no matter one’s race, creed, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability, independent of production. We get too utilitarian when we measure worth by success or production. As a result, autists who work hard to achieve some degree of competence (“passing”) are frustrated and prone to negative effects in mental health.
Intrinsic worth can also be recognised by humans or even animals of a reasonable sentience. In my case, there is something special about Thoroughbred horses that I like and that is the interaction between human and horse. As long each entity respects each other, there is a connection. It depends on the horse’s disposition and my own. I have told you about Silver Charm and Exaggerator. And I have told you about Gun Runner after Breeders’ Cup. They can sense my unspoken intention and respond in kind. Let me tell you a story about American Pharoah. Yup, THAT horse. A few weeks ago, I came by his stud farm and took pictures with him. After that, he was led back to his stall. His head stuck out. I was going to take a picture of him, when I noticed that he was reaching out to kiss me. I can sense his disposition. I know he is not a bitey jerk like War Emblem or Sarava. So I stepped forward and I received his kiss. His stubble brushed my lips. And I realised that the only living Triple Crown champion saw me as someone to be kissed. He honored my presence**, I felt humbled knowing that this horse of a very high caliber thought I was a safe and decent being. He reminded me that I had worth, both as a productive member of society and as a creature of God.
I had dinner last night and discussed that article with my friend and coworker. I told her that I recognise my God-given worth, but I need a way to address that challenge of living a long happy life. The article shows that I will have to assert my worth regularly and find a way to achieve my goals of economic stability and good mental health. So we both talked about ways to achieve that point in life. It has to be built upon that intrinsic worth or I will fail.
We claim our worth by creating spaces where we recognise each other and support each other. We create our own opportunities and choose to affirm each other and affiliate with those who believe in our worth. I believe that the Church has failed us. I think that we must assert our God-given worth ourselves instead. This is not a matter of giving ourselves ego strokes. It is a matter of survival.
* Without irony, “Thanks, Obama.”
** “Derby trumps Yale.” Let the reader understand.