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from LOVE ANTHONY by Lisa Genova

New York Times Bestselling Author of STILL ALIVE


by Martha Stark, MD / Faculty, Harvard Medical School



Love Anthony (2013) is a beautiful, loving, and poignant novel that Lisa Genova, a bestselling author and neuroscientist, writes about Anthony – an autistic boy who never spoke; who loved Barney, the number three, and lining up rocks; who did not like to be touched; and who did not make eye contact – but who taught his mom an incredible lesson about loving.


But as the author writes the book and Anthony’s autism becomes more familiar to her, she begins to see more and more the ways in which she and he are similar – she chews her fingernails as a form of self-soothing; she feels calm when her house is clean and all the picture frames level and centered; she cannot stand the thought of someone else sitting in her seat at the library; she feels agitated when there is too much noise around her; and sometimes she just needs to be alone.


And as the author continues to write, she comes to see that their real similarities have nothing to do with autism. She begins to realize that this story is more about Anthony the boy than Anthony the boy with autism. Autism becomes almost irrelevant and eventually she is simply writing about Anthony, a person worthy of happiness and safety, of feeling wanted and loved – just like her. The more she writes about Anthony, the more she realizes that she is actually writing about herself.


Anthony teaches her a lesson her heart needed to learn, which is captured in a (fictional) letter that he writes to her prior to his untimely death at age 8 from a grand mal seizure –


Dear Mom,


You already possess the answers to your questions. You already hold them in your heart. But your mind still resists. I understand that sometimes we need reassurance, to hear the words, “I love you too.” A two-way conversation.


But I wasn’t here to do the things you dreamed and even feared I’d do before I was born. I wasn’t here to play Little League, go to the prom, go to college, go to war, become a doctor or a lawyer or a mathematician (although I would’ve been great at that one). I wasn’t here to be married, to have children and grandchildren, or to grow to be an old man. All that has been done or will be done.


And I wasn’t here to help others understand immunology, gastroenterology, genetics, or neuroscience. I wasn’t here to solve the riddle of autism. Those answers are for another time.


I came here to simply be, and autism was the vehicle of my being. Although my short life was difficult at times, I found great joy in being Anthony. Autism made it difficult to connect with you and Dad and other people through things like eye contact and conversation and your activities. But I wasn’t interested in connecting in those ways, so I felt no deprivation in this. I connected in other ways, through the song of your voices, the energy of your emotions, the comfort in being near you, and, sometimes, in moments I treasured, through sharing the experience of something I loved – the blue sky, my rocks, the Three Pigs story.


And you, Mom, I loved you. You’ve asked if I felt and understood that you loved me. Of course I did. And you know this. I loved your love because it kept me safe and happy and wanted, and it existed beyond words and hugs and eyes.


This brings me to the other reason I was here. I was here for you, Mom. I was here to teach you about love.


Most people love with a guarded heart, only if certain things happen or don’t happen, only to a point. If the person we love hurts us, betrays us, abandons us, disappoints us, if the person becomes hard to love, we often stop loving. We protect our delicate hearts. We close off, retreat, withhold, disconnect, and withdraw. We might even hate.


Most people love conditionally. Most people are never asked to love with a whole and open heart. They only love part way. They get by.


Autism was my gift to you. My autism didn’t let me hug and kiss you, it didn’t allow me to look into your eyes, it didn’t let me say aloud the words you so desperately wanted to hear with your ears. But you loved me anyway.


You’re thinking. Of course I did. Anyone would have. This isn’t true. Loving me with a full and accepting heart, loving all of me, required you to grow. Despite your heartache and disappointment, your fears and frustration and sorrow, despite all I couldn’t show you in return, you loved me.


You loved me unconditionally.


You haven’t experienced this kind of love with Dad or your parents or your sister or anyone else before. But now, you know what unconditional love is. I know my death has hurt you, and you’ve needed time alone to heal. You’re ready now. You’ll still miss me. I miss you, too. But you’re ready.


Take what you’ve learned and love someone again. Find someone to love and love without condition.


This is why we’re all here.








Genova L. 2013. Love Anthony. New York, NY: Gallery Books.

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