What's stuck in my head today is a book I didn't particularly like, read during that time where you have to read lots of books you don't particularly like; high school. The book was Huckleberry Finn, and it was okay, I guess. Kid runs away from home, meets a runaway slave, they team up, much hilarity ensues, and it ends happily, kind of. It just didn't trip my trigger, if you know what I mean. I've read plenty of grand adventures and while I'll agree that this was one, I'd just put it firmly in the meh category as far as Books That Did It for Jen.
So you may be a little surprised to hear that I. Was. Furious. when I read about this. Short version, for those of you that don't click links: A new edition of the Mark Twain classic is being printed with the "n-word" removed. Yes, if I can't type it in my blog then I, too, must find it offensive. Not the point. I didn't write the book. Mark Twain did, and to start mucking around with his language is like asking Hamlet to come out onstage and say, "Dude, like, should I off myself or what?!" It was nineteenth century America, people. Nobody talked like we do now, nor should they. When they start saying, "Whither goest thou, yon cross-gartered varlet?" on "CSI," we can talk about that, okay? Okay.
Another thing: Mark Twain died quite a long time ago. His work has not changed much since then. The only time we need a "new" edition of anything Twain is when the "old" edition has been read to tatters and no longer holds up to backpacks, back pockets and being chucked irreverently into the back seats of beat up Volkswagons. What could possibly be simpler (Ha! Got it in there!) than just leaving well enough alone? We make things complicated, people. They actually start out very simple.
Which brings me to the subject of autism. (Bear with me, it'll make sense in a minute.) According to a small but vocal group of parents, helped in no small part by Jenny McCarthy, autism is caused by childhood vaccines. You know, those shots we got from the age of birth to approximately five to keep us safe from horrible lingering deaths by smallpox, diptheria, tetanus and other fun things that used to wipe out kids left and right. Apparently, a British doctor (who has since been stripped of his medical license, and is now facing criminal charges) falsified research on a group of children in his famous study that seemed to show how children "caught" autism from childhood vaccines. He's defending himself in the media, but his claims of a panglobal conspiracy on the part of the "vaccine industry" may not help him much in a court of law. His study is being called, among unkinder things, an "elaborate fraud." It's just kind of a shame it took the British medical journal that first published it thirteen years to retract it, because lots of parents panicked in the meantime and didn't have their kids vaccinated. A lot of childhood diseases that had basically been wiped out started making a comeback, and look, people, that sucks, okay? Nobody should have to come down with smallpox or German measles or whooping cough in this day and age. Certainly nobody should die. But kids have, and I dunno about you, but I'd rather have a live autistic child than a dead child. Especially if the dead child died of something that I could have prevented in about thirty seconds and for less than thirty bucks.
Look. Autism is scary. It takes a happy, normally developing two year old and turns him or her into a shy, withdrawn and sometimes flat-out antisocial two-year-old that stops learning words, wants nothing to do with other people and engages in odd, sometimes self-harming repetitive behaviors. Autistic kids are looking at a lifetime of therapy, and may or may not be able to lead independent lives someday. Nobody knows what really causes autism, and that's even scarier. Small wonder that when somebody pointed to a suspected cause, everybody went bananas. We need bad guys in situations like this. We can't just blame nobody and nothing; it's flat-out unAmerican. UnBritish. Whatever.
But here's the thing. Sometimes demanding answers gets us into much more trouble than simply (Ha! Got it in there again!) accepting the situation. Disclaimer: No, I do not have an autistic child. No, I cannot possibly know what it's like to have to live with this issue day after day. But I do know that in finding someone or something to blame, it's easy to slip into a state of inaction. If so and so is responsible, then I'm absolved of the need to do anything to better the situation. After all, it's not my fault, it's the fault of X. Therefore X should fix it, even if X is an inanimate object that can't possibly contribute to a solution even if there were a solution to be had. That kind of mentality doesn't benefit anybody.
If I were Mark Twain, and I had an autistic child (come on, it's not that much of a stretch), I wouldn't be worried that somebody might someday be offended that I used the "n-word" in my classic American picaresque about life on the Mississippi. I also wouldn't worry about finding out who was to blame for my child's autism so I could sue their pants off, if they had pants, or ban the daylights out of them, if they had daylights. I'd only be worried about writing enough and publishing enough to make a decent enough living that I could afford good therapy for my autistic child, and keeping my family together, no matter what.
P.S. Mark Twain lost his favorite daughter Susy to spinal meningitis when she was just twenty-four.
*Check out the seminal 1982 album by The Police.