Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Hello in there
Walking through the parking lot of Whole Foods today, I was startled to see a woman in full chador loading groceries into an SUV. I live in rust-belt middle America, land of empty factories and declining populations. It's not exactly a mecca (!!) for international travelers. Here and there, you see women who wear head scarves, but that's all. So this woman, covered head-to-toe in flowing black robes, with only her eyes showing, really stood out. I wanted to stare, and I wanted to NOT stare, so what I did instead was glance at her and look quickly away. Which isn't an awful thing to do. The thing is, I know better.
I know better, because I have a daughter who is different from most of the world. My twelve-year-old is autistic. She's not "Rain Man" autistic - the shut down, affectless, savant. She's exuberant and affectionate, but has motor problems that make it hard for her to control all her muscles- eyes, tongue, arms, everything - and she has trouble seeing/focusing, talking, and performing simple tasks like tying her shoe. So, though she's also tall, pretty, happy, loving, and bright, her autism makes it so that those things are not what most people see and remember about her. It's like her Chador, hiding her true self from the world. I hate it when people stare at her, and I react in different ways to it depending on who's doing the staring. Sometimes, if it's a kid, I talk to them in a friendly way. Sometimes if it's an adult who is being excessively rude and should know better, I meet their eyes in a challenging way as if to say, 'What the hell are you staring at?' In other situations, I simply smile, to make us all remember that we're human.
It's not that I mind the looking, per se. She is different. I know that. And because we choose to take her with us anywhere we think she might have fun, rather than only keeping to places her differences will be accepted, she is out and about in the wide world having fun and getting stared at. So I don't mind if people look, or even if they look longer than is typically socially acceptable as they try to figure out just why this girl seems different. But what I truly wish for is that, while they're looking at my sweet baby, the challenge and light of my life, they'd smile. That's all. Look in her pretty brown eyes and smile. Which I didn't manage to do today, in the parking lot of Whole Foods, to the woman in her full chador. And as I walked away, after it was too late, I was mad at myself for not automatically doing unto others as I wish they would to unto me and mine. I'll keep trying, though, and maybe next time I'll get to that smile, the one that says, " the light in me honors the light in you."