Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Why I Flag

The sun had long gone disappeared from the sky, but I didn't care, and I was waiting for one more car to cross my imaginary finish line to give me an excuse to wave a checkered flag for them. Was it a race car? Not exactly as in that story I was nine and standing on a rock in the neighborhood I lived in imagining the day I was a flagger for Indycar.

On Friday, as the sun was breaking the horizon in St. Petersburg, Florida, I thought back to those hours on that rock and I also thought back to the events of the night before. Leaving the track was a challenge as the middle seat of the rental van we had had been locked in the down position. The Chrysler van has more straps and levers on their seats than one could imagine, but as I tried to make it go upright so I had a seat it wouldn't budge. 

Up, down, slide, twist. It didn't matter. Everything I tried resulted in no change. It had been a long day at the track and every second seemed like chunks of minutes. I was delaying departure and I knew it. My anxiety of being the cause of the delay escalated to a panic level as I wanted to remain invisible. Challenges like this make me visible and since I'm not the most mechanically minded of individuals this was a highly charged situation.

It would've been easy to simply ask for help but asking for help for those like myself on the autism spectrum can be a challenge the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. It isn't easy to ask because, again, that would make me visible. For some reason I have this image that I should be perfect and not require help so things just, well, work. This seat was ruining everything.

I started putting some force in everything I did and if this seat were sentient, it would most certainly be laughing at me. Mercifully, it was suggested that, since there was an open seat in another van, to take that. I was beyond thankful to leave that seat and move on.

Now, why am I talking about a bout with a seat in a blog entitled, "Why I Flag"? It all has to do with communication and as the sun made its glorious appearance in the sky, I realized I had been an expert communicator my entire life. It just happens to be with flags in hand.

I've always had a passion for motorsports and a deep respect for those behind the wheel. To me, motorsports is the most thrilling sport in the world. My movements with the flags on, say a start with the green flag, isn't simply moves or style for the sake of moves or style, but rather a communication of just how amazing I think this is.

Of course, the primary purpose of flags is to communicate the status to the drivers and when I wave a yellow flag to warn drivers of danger, I communicate the level of urgency to the situation by the way the flag is displayed. Three months ago, this saw me jumping up and down at a karting event as there was a kart stranded in the center of the track. Thankfully, that kart wasn't hit, and all drivers were fine.

I find this contrast so unique as I've gone through my entire life having trouble communicating with spoken words. And yet, my ability to communicate my passion for the sport through movements of flags keeps getting stronger. And this is why I flag! It makes sense to me, and it isn't just movements of fabric but rather an expression of emotions I could never state aloud. 

In 2021, many people took notice of my style, and I'm glad people got excited or thought the movements were cool, but going all the way back to when I was a child practicing moves on that rock in the neighborhood, I never did any of it for external accolades. Instead, it was my way to communicate the excitement I felt about a race. Thankfully I had an imagination, and the occasional 1992 Ford Tempo could substitute for a high-performance race car. 

As I returned home yesterday, I had that van seat on my mind. I find it difficult to let missteps go, but there's something beautiful in this contrast. My communication challenges are part of my disability and yet that same disability allows for such a beautiful expression of communication. It's a difficult thing having the exact thing that makes something amazingly beautiful also creates the biggest challenges on a daily basis. I now understand this a bit more than I did and as I've so often stated, I wouldn't get rid of my Asperger's if given the chance. I may not communicate in timeliest or most traditional of manners, but there's no mistaking that I am having the time of my life communicating the status of the race with flags and for that I'm blessed.

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