It started off as an ordinary food shopping expedition this morning at our local Shop Rite. I immediately proceeded to the deli counter, (which was crowded as usual), when I first entered the store . Today was no exception- you would think they were giving Billy Joel concert tickets away, there were that many people! I grabbed my number, then went over to the veggie and fruit section since there were 10- 15 people in front of me at the deli. It was time for the usual “beat the clock” game that I do every week: I try to place as much produce in my cart before my deli number is called. I completed this mission successfully, with 4 people still in front of me to spare. Quite pleased with myself, I started to go through my emails and texts while waiting for my number to be called, only to be interrupted by a woman standing next to me. ” This deli counter is always crazy every time I come, they should hire more people” she complained. I concurred that the deli counter did indeed have its hectic moments, like any supermarket.
This lady then proceeded to tell me her entire life story. She was picking up deli meats to host a luncheon today for her young grandchildren, a boy and a girl. She showed me photos of these 2 adorable youngsters, then asked if I had any children. I proudly showed her Brian’s school picture, which she stared at intently for what seemed to be an eternity , then exclaimed: “what’s wrong with him?” Not: “He’s a handsome boy” ( which I happen to think he is of course) or ” what beautiful eyes he has” or “what a lovely smile”- nothing even remotely like that. Fortunately, my deli number was just called at that moment, so I didn’t have to reply and proceeded to ignore this woman while I placed my order. She definitely struck a nerve so deep inside of me that I even shocked myself. If I had looked again in her direction, I’m not sure whether I would have pummeled her or begun to cry. I probably would have done both, truth be told.
I know it was just a stranger who was clearly being insensitive and inappropriate, so why did it bother me so much? It shouldn’t matter what anyone says about Brian. Yes, I know that Brian happens to wear his disability on his face because of Down syndrome. But this has nothing to do with who he is! Yes, I also know that he stims, vocalizes, and perseverates on many things because of autism. He has many quirks that make him unusual and challenging. I know this better than anyone. I wish his challenges did not exist and am often sad for my son because I know that life will not be easy for him. Brian will always require assistance with all facets of living for the rest of his life . But there is nothing ” wrong”; these are just incidental details about what my son needs.
I suppose these realities were the trigger which this woman activated in me this morning. Plus the fact that I didn’t have my cup of coffee prior to leaving the house was obviously a huge mistake- lesson learned! But Brian’s life is not a “tragedy”- he actually lives a very good life, one that includes people who love and care for him, and activities that give him joy and purpose. Brian’s quirks also make him beloved and sweet. He gives the best hugs in the world, he is generally happy, and loves others. I adore my son and take great exception to anyone not giving him the respect that he is due, just like any Mama Bear would. Thank goodness Brian doesn’t understand when people are being insensitive or rude, a true blessing in disguise. A part of me wishes that I could have responded back to this woman with ” what is wrong with YOU to ask such a question?”, or, ” unless you have something nice to say, don’t say anything”, but I was too flabbergasted! I kept telling myself that she just didn’t know any better, as I hurried off with my deli meats, holding back my tears. I had to take a “time out” in the water/ juice aisle for a few minutes, which was luckily empty at the time.
Fortunately, such encounters are very rare, so much so, that I honestly don’t remember the last time anyone spoke disparagingly about Brian. Our society has come a long way as far as acceptance and appreciation of the value of disabled people, just for being themselves, as well as for their talents, and contributions. Thank God for that, but obviously the work is not complete and there is still much to be done. I am grateful for the overwhelming majority of people in Brian’s life who see him as a valuable person, worthy of the same respect and love that all human beings deserve, and treat him as such. Nothing warms my heart more or encourages my spirit. I see not only the huge difference that the people in Brian’s life make, but conversely, Brian, and all of the special young people that we know, also make an indelible mark in the lives of the people who know and love them. There is truly nothing like these relationships; you only have to spend a little time to see how life-changing and beautiful they really are…
If I were ever to see this woman at the deli counter again, I’m not sure if I would still want to punch her out or continue our conversation. This time, though, I would definitely brag about Brian’s many wonderful virtues. In all honesty, she probably wouldn’t even remember meeting me or what she said. While today was a reminder of how painful it can be when someone makes an inaccurate judgment about my son, it was also an opportunity to remember the truth about Brian and “all that is RIGHT with him”! Precious gifts can be wrapped in a variety of ways and I am so glad for the treasure that is my beautiful boy. People who do not know Brian may make snap judgments about him that are based on impressions and not facts. That is one slippery slope that everyone should avoid. Please reserve your judgment until you get to know WHO my son is. I think you will be very pleasantly surprised when you discover exactly what he likes and what he is capable of. You will ultimately see that there are more similarities than differences. And that is TRUTH that can be taken to the bank (with exponential interest) for a lifetime!
Until we meet again, thanks for reading! 😊