At Sea: Being More Than Mother – http://wp.me/p3IL3v-dg
Monthly Archives: June 2016
Several moths ago, on my way home from work, I encountered a young homeless woman panhandling on Church St.
This is no kind of exceptional experience in Burlington, Vt. Particularly on not too terribly cold winter days.
And because I have been homeless myself, I usually carry some loose change or some singles that I am prepared to part with. And because I have not been homeless for 13 years, I tend to hand it out in a kind of perfunctory way; because I frankly sometimes feel a little annoyed by the recipient’s inability to transcend their situation as I did.
On this day I had no change, no wallet at all in fact. And it was cold. And this girl was young. And she looked a little broken. And I felt a little guilty.
So when she asked if I had change I stopped. I said “I’m sorry” (for so very many things). I wished her a good day, and told her that I hoped she had somewhere to warm up.
She thanked me as though I had given her a $20 bill.
And when I asked her why she was thanking me she told me that she had been out in the wind for 5 hours that day. That a few people had helped her out with money. That most people said no as nicely as possible. That I was the first person to actually LOOK at her.
I have thought about her every single day since. I can see her face in my mind. If I ever see her again I am buying her lunch. And eating it with her.
It is evidence of Grace, I think, that a two minute encounter with a stranger can rock your whole world view.
My daily meditation since our meeting has been on this: Do we look at each other? And if we do, do we see each other?
There are so many good things that can be done for our fellow human, but if we do those things without seeing the humanity in the other person have we done them any service? Giving to charities, working for causes, volunteering our time; it is no different at all than giving scraps to a dog at the table if we do not SEE the people that we have the privilege of aiding.
The homeless are people.
The infirm are people.
The hungry are people.
The elderly are people.
Children are people.
We all are people, here together on this very small world.
We all are the children of a compassionate God.
Should we not aspire to a small measure of that deep compassion?
We have all been given as gifts to each other. I despair of all the things I might have learned from those that I refused to see.
I beg forgiveness daily for all of the times that I refused to accept the Grace offered to me in the guise of human interaction.
I am deeply grateful to every person who has ever looked at me and seen me.
I pray for all of us to learn to see.
Yesterday I wore one of my very favorite t-shirts. It says “Autistic Kids ROCK”.
Now, I love this shirt for several reasons, foremost among them: I love a pun!
But, even better yet, it engenders the most fascinating reactions. While positive commentary is always nice, the negative reactions are FABULOUS. Because, let’s face it, if a stranger disagrees with your t-shirt enough to comment on it in public, you get to know exactly where they stand. And sometimes, in rare and beautiful moments, you get to have a dialogue where everyone grows a little.
Now, it so happens, that while running errands in said shirt, with two autists in tow, our cashier at Rite-Aid just couldn’t help himself.
“I LOVE your shirt!” says he.
“But… well… shouldn’t it really say ‘kids with autism’?”
My Jules was super quick with the “yeah, no”.
So here we are, in a super crowded store, where I have the opportunity for a teaching moment (and enough purchases to take the time without fellow shoppers attempting to stone me) and my kid has basically insisted that I get in it. So, *deep breath*
“We don’t like person first language, it implies that autism is not integral to their personalities. Someone HAS a cold, not autism. It also implies that I, or they, would change their autism if we could; but that would change them, and I love them hard just like this.
Or, maybe easier to understand: I have green eyes, I don’t have woman-ness. On is incidental the other integral to my personality and my relationship to the world.”
“Did I get that right, Jules?” *nodding ensues*
Well, now our twenty-something friend has that mind-blown expression on his face.
He told us that he just never thought about it that way, that “this changes everything”. Then we learned that his little brother is an autist, and he wished he had thought about this sooner.
We talked a little about better-late-than-never-at-all.
And then another question. “But, I have heard people talk about preferring person first language! What do I do about that?”
What do we do? We communicate.
I attend meetings regularly where everyone attendant is asked their preferences – for name, pronoun, gender, ect. ect. ect.
This is a brave new world, and if we want to do right by people, we should just ASK.
Our new cashier-friend gave me the funniest compliment then. He called me “so enlightened for my generation”. I laughed REALLY loud.
So what’s the conclusion here?
We can not talk about disenfranchised groups as though they are discrete from each other. People of different colors, abilities, orientations, identities, economic strata… everyone non-normative in any fashion, have this in common: THEY know what makes them comfortable. And we are capable of asking and then honoring them.