I noticed the boy first because he seemed to be wearing a bright red and yellow knee sock on his right leg. Ok, maybe a new fad for pre-adolescent boys. No big deal. When he stopped by the railing and looked around, I noticed the woman and little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, holding hands as they walked in front of me (obviously, a little too focused on Lenscrafters to notice people just feet away). I looked at him, then at their backs again. It wasn't a sock on the boy's leg, it was a prosthesis. Three things struck me in short order: the smile and patience on the boy's face as he waited for his mom and sister, how cool the design on his prosthesis was, and that he didn't seem self-conscious about wearing it.
While the boy waited patiently for mom and sis to catch up, I looked at them a little closer. The girl had red hair. It wasn't until she walked away from her mom, then turned to look back at her that I realized she seemed to be wearing a wig. When she began to walk back to her mom, her gait was halting and she held her arms out like a high wire walker trying to maintain balance. Mom and brother served as bookends ready to come to her assistance, but still allowing her enough freedom to maneuver independently as long as possible.
Being a kid-person, I didn't direct my attention to the mom until after watching the interactions with the kids. That's when I saw her arm. I'd seen that arm before, my 8th grade math teacher, a boy in my son's kindergarten class, a very dear colleague. Slightly smaller, slightly errant, mom brought her right arm back to her side before reaching out to her daughter with her left arm.
In watching this brief and tender exchange, my pace and my errand paled in comparison. It brought to mind an anecdote from Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People about the importance of paradigms and paradigm shifts. In less than a minute, I shifted from my pitifully small errand to wanting to hug this woman and tell her that I thought she was so brave. Brave to personally have a physical challenge and still have a child. Even braver to have one disabled child, and still accept the risk and consequences of giving birth to another child. And yet there they were, happy, connected, and definitely not seeming to be looking for any pity.
I did get my glasses adjusted, moving slower now, paying more attention to what was going on around me. Leaving the optometrist's, I spotted mom sitting on a bench outside Build-a-Bear, gently rubbing her right arm while she watched her children in the store. In the store, brother was standing nearby while little sister looked and carefully touched a bear or two. As I watched, the brother seemed to make eye contact with the clerk by his sister, who seemed to get his message.
Still having places to go, things to do, and people to see, I only lingered at this poignant scene for a minute, long enough to make eye contact and smile at the mom. How feeble! ME, not them!
Okay, I'm not a total idiot when it comes to being sensitive or aware of special needs. Good grief, the only paper I remember writing at William Jewell was the one about how Franklin D. Roosevelt's disability obviously did not interfere with his effectiveness as our nation's only four term President. I've done workshops at local, regional and state conferences about the importance of considerations when interacting with children having special needs of any kind. I opened those workshops by telling about a family Christmas gathering of folks I love who live with deafness, blindness, orthopedic issues, asthma, FAS, Down Syndrome, plus a few others. And yet, I had the presumption to make assumptions about a family at the mall. How arrogant!
I'm so thankful that the Lord loves us so much that He keeps teaching and reminding us of powerful lessons in the most unexpected places. If my vision is to reach out and minister to at-risk children, then it's imperative that my heart, my mind, eyes and ears stay sensitive to all children (and adults, too), and the challenges that affect their lives.
What has touched your heart recently in your world? What was your response?
The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.