To the outsider, I looked a little crazy.
There I was, running around the lazy river, chasing a 14 year old Haitian boy, his chocolate skin shimmering in the water. I grabbed his muscular body and tossed him under the surface. He came up spluttering with a smile on his face and grabbed me right back. It was a child’s game, but he looked so grown up – with scruff on his face to prove it.
But he was, and will always be, a child inside.
So we played.
Some people smiled as we splashed past. Others looked with concern. Little ones were uncertain. Lovence is a big boy and without his glasses, he furrows his brow to see and sometimes looks… well, angry.
I often find myself wanting to explain our story. There’s a reason this middle aged white woman is chasing down a teenage boy. He is all baby boy inside and loves to play. There’s a reason he doesn’t respond when people do smile and say hello. He doesn’t speak. He avoids eye contact. He is different. He is special needs.
Lovence looks “normal” so people are always a little offended when he doesn’t respond to their greeting.
I usually follow up with, “He doesn’t speak, but he appreciates the hello!”
Then they give him grace, then they smile warmly at us, then they understand.
I find myself so protective of my boy. When two children giggled and pointed at him, I called him over. We hopped into the hot tub and sat there together. Every so often, he touched my arm or held my hand, grounding himself in me, in my protection.
As we sat there, I saw a special needs adult across the way. He was carrying his big body over the lily pads that were anchored in the water. It’s typically a child’s past time, but he was having a ball. People watched with smiles. His unique needs were visible and they cheered him on.
He was different. They could see it. Kindness and encouragement freely given.
I thought of us all. As individuals. As fellow travelers in this broken world. I thought of the weight of social expectations that are so deep and layered. The expectations of how we should speak, smile, respond, navigate stress, handle social connections, disappointment, authority. Only for most of us, we do it without a protective body beside us to lean into, to hold hands, to shield and explain.
Very few handle it perfectly. Each one of us with our own special needs requiring understanding. Maybe not visible, maybe we look “normal” – but for some, crowds overwhelm us, or stress undoes us or authority scares us or expectations undo us.
How different would it be if our compassion for each other’s differences extended to all people rather than those who simply look distinctly “special needs?”
The person who is grumpy in the grocery line may be worried if they have enough money to cover their basketful of groceries. The one who scowls may be stressed and overwhelmed and undone by his work. The child who stares blankly at us when we greet him or her may suffer from autism or anxiety or any number of social issues.
We may look “normal” – but most of us have hang-ups that require some significant grace and compassion. Maybe if we keep that in mind and say hello anyway, smile anyway, love anyway, cheer anyway, encourage anyway – maybe then this world would be a bit brighter, warmer, safer place for all of our differences to reside.