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A toilet in the loony bin


Eleven weeks lived in lands not my own have been instructive. How can they not have been? Perhaps the most curious realization (something I have suspected since childhood but could neither admit nor prove) that I am an alien in each environment where I find myself.

Yes, we are distinctively foreign in places where the language and customs differ dramatically from our own home turf—like being in Egypt a few years ago on a Missouri Synod Lutheran tour to “walk the land where Jesus walked”; the foreign-ness evident at several levels, the M.S. Lutherans as much or more foreign than the Arabic Egyptians (the latter simply foreign; the former downright creepy)—but that instinctive sense of not belonging shrouds me when I am “home” as well. Even in the greater U.S. of A., for example, being in Caruthersville (the oh-so-Southern boot heel of Missouri) is alien, but so is being in the Stop-and-Go a block from my house in Fargo.

Attending Pentecost Sunday service in a Chattanooga church a few months ago—as wondrously insightful as it may have been—was neither more nor less comfortable than attending a colleague’s lecture at MSUM. In these and other situations, it is not the fear of making a misstep—of ausfahrt-ing when I ought to eingang (which is its own awkward adventure)—it is the fundamental knowledge, my special seventh sense, that I simply don’t belong. Like David Bowie’s character, I have fallen to Earth and found myself trapped in a form unlike the real one I cannot now recall. The DSM-V isn’t handy, so support from the APA will have to wait, unless any of you can suggest a terrestrial dysphasia, dysmorphia, dyspepsia not already on the books. How much longer must I wait for the rescue ship, green ray or fold in space to take me home? More malignly, why was I sent here in the first place? The interruption in my reportage must have been noted by someone.

I have a husband, a house, a job, a host of friends and acquaintances that should suffice; should be context enough for a life of purpose and meaning. Aspiration and longing are my constant companions. I have a body of acquired knowledge and the mental faculties for critical thinking. Occasional flashes of insight are cosmic crumbs that lead me along this path to I-know-not-what-nor-when. And all the while, the inability to “fit” gnaws always at my gut.

Having just watched a BBC documentary, an interesting possibility arises: could I be autistic?

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