Label Me Not



By Yohanna Abdulllah

Thank God it is Friday (TGIF). On Fridays, I feel a bit more light-hearted and look forward to the arrival of Saturday and Sunday, when mostly I am free of work. Tomorrow though I have a interview and outing with a long lost friend, Andrea who appeared at t he doorstep of my flat on the second day of  Hari Raya.

My mum said, she is indeed a true friend to have searched for you after more than five years of separation. Indeed, I have been thinking of her of late wondering how to locate her. I did not know her surname even and as I have my daily bath, I would especially think of her because the pottery she presented to me one Hari Raya ago, stares at me from my bathroom shelf.”

I was still in my pyjamas when Andrea knocked at my door asking my daughter to call me on the second day of Hari Raya. She had gone to Boon Lay getting the address wrong. She did not even have my address and had set forth from her home in Tanjong Pagar with some vague memories of my home.

As it turned out, she said she was driven to look for me after dreaming of me night after night. She is sweet, she came with presents and she did not want to stay too long as she expected that I had plans to go visiting my relatives with my children.

I remember her as being a special person but in which way I was unsure but she reminded me that she is autistic. I suppose there is a wide range of people with different types of autism. I have forgotten about her “disabilities” and saw her as just Andrea, a beautiful and generous soul. She shared with me that she has fourth stage cancer and expect to live a shorter life.

She has come to terms with her illness and is joyously celebrating life. Like me, she is  50 years old and we graduated from the National University of Singapore together.  We both worked for Singapore Press Holdings, while I was a journalist, she was a researcher, She went on to work with many prestigious companies and organisations but she did not last long in the interesting and challenging jobs. Never say die, at one time when she couldn’t find work, she gamely worked at McDonald’s for three years.

Smile and the whole world will smile with you – that seems to be her motto as she cheerfully talks and go forth on her adventures. She currently works doing  administration but she is looking for a better paying and more interesting job.

When she posted me her resume and photos and certificates, I saw that her mind works in a different way.  It is difficult for an employer or any reader to make sense of her qualifications and experience by reading it. I need to sit with her and re-do her resume. It is not because she is incapable but she organizes her thoughts in a different manner.

In the past, I never thought of her as being odd or less than qualified and capable. We are peers and she is unique in her own ways which are endearing to me. My cousin’s child who is autistic too, communicates less with others and hardly talks but he is always full of smiles and shows affection to me even though we seldom meet.  Everyone is special in their own ways and it is important to accept everyone as they are and also support their dreams and goals. We simple cannot pigeon hole someone with a label such as autistic or a mental case.

If we want to label someone, let the labels be positive, empowering and inspiring.  Every body is beautiful – and as an old and golden song goes –

And everything is beautiful in it’s own way
Like a starry summer night
Or a snow covered winter’s day,
Everybody’s beautiful in their own way
Under God’s Heaven
The world’s gonna find a way

Read more: Ray Stevens – Everything Is Beautiful Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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