Tribute to Dinah Murray

Tribute to an exceptional person I was lucky enough to meet towards the end of her extraordinary life, Autism Studies pioneer and activist Dinah Murray: https://amp.theguardian.com/society/2021/jul/25/dinah-murray-obituary

I interviewed her in her flat in Dalgety Bay, a month before she died. I asked if she thought there was going to be more recognition of the value of autistic people even if the label is disputed. She said:

“We’ll continue to find that autistic people are the people who are less swayed by the pressures of hypocrisy, and that will mean that autistic people will go on having a significant contribution to make because it’s essential to have a society in which there are people who are willing to be productive irritants and undermine hypocritical nonsense…

& we’re going to be respected better…Look I’m an optimist but it seems to me, if anything would have been a learning experience, it’s been the last eighteen months. A big learning experience. People have learned how powerless they are on the whole. They see they’re powerless from below with these billions of tiny viruses leaping all over them and powerless from above with governments that don’t pay any attention to their needs but make a lot of money for their cronies. I feel fairly sure that many people have had epiphanies and it will change their future thinking permanently…& I’m also absolutely sure that many others haven’t”

When I thanked her for being an elder among activists and advocates she said:

“Why I’m dying happy is because I had a mission. Which I was conscious of from quite early on. About justice and fairness and living in a fair world. I haven’t really ever had a career, I’ve had a mission. And I think I’ve accomplished my mission basically. Thanks to loads of other people obviously. But I’ve reached a point where I think, wow, these things are finally happening and I kept pushing that boulder up the hill and it finally did roll down the other side. And I hope that there are a lot of people around who are going to take it on. And that seems to be what’s happening.”

and when I asked what advice she might have for those following her she said:

“Pragmatically I do have some words of advice -its really important to make an effort to believe that your enemy, the person you are seeing as opposing everything -that you probably have quite substantial areas of overlap and if you can appeal to them on that basis you may after a while work on their minds and they will start seeing things differently. I’ve seen that happen a lot including with a leading behaviourist who’s eventually shifted round . You’ve just got to keep on planting the thoughts. “

I wrote a poem to read at her wonderful Zoom memorial service in which her ashes were catapulted into the Firth of Forth in coconut shells. The first two lines were from a poem Dinah wrote as a girl. The title is a type of fungus (ish) species that Joan McDonald said at the memorial service, she was delighted to discover existed-given her pioneering work on the monotropic theory of autism.

Monotropa Uniflora

Cut a flower it does not bleed,

the sap withdraws

but the seed flowers again,

we will not lose these words of yours

the ideas you have shared and shown,

your lifelong mission

reaped and sown.

You recognised fellow foragers,

their urge to seek justice, equality,

the fierce desire to be right

the ability to hyper-focus,

withstand obstacles and fight.

You were hopeful new ideas,

worlds and ways of being

could emerge from these truth tellers,

their insight and clear seeing.

You reminded us to be open to persuading opponents

of our point of view,

a mission passed on,

we still have an essence of you.

Your interests carry like spores

through the air

in fragments, in buds,

via mycelia-like networks

they are still there.

Larkin said our almost-instinct is almost-true;

what remains of us is love.

But you also knew

energy is only transformed, never gone

so when we remember your words

or act as you might do,

you, in all your power and passion

live on.