Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Changing the World by Being Himself


My friend Carolina travels the world working with families of children with autism. She takes delight in having learned as much from her clients as she has taught them. The other day she posted something on her Facebook page that I found moving and inspirational. I thought I'd share it with you.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

A Conversation Overheard
Another airplane, another landing... I hear a man a few rows back. He speaks loudly using phrases like "children dying" and "it's just going to keep happening."

I wonder who he is speaking to with such an uncomfortable tone and if the conversation is leading toward some sort of fight.

I listen.

As I listen I slowly come to recognize something in the man's manner of speech. He sounds as if he may have autism, that he is simply perseverating on death in its various forms, speaking to anyone who will listen to him, trying to understand the impossible-to-understand recent events in the world.

In the midst of his tirade, the flight attendant announces that anyone needing a wheelchair should wait in their seats. The man changes focus. With a deep sense of urgency, he says loudly "I want one! Do I get one? Is my wheelchair coming? I need a wheelchair. Did they get my wheelchair?"

Then the sweetest thing happens. I hear the gentle voice of a woman, saying, "Absolutely sir. You will get your wheelchair. Someone will take great care of you."

I smile, feeling grateful that she sees his outburst as nothing more than than someone voicing his concerns in the best way he knows. She neither dismisses nor overreacts, but instead responds matter-of-factly. She helps him.

A new conversation unfolds. The man asks her what her name is, where she is going, and why she is going there. He asks who she is visiting, and finds out that she is visiting her son who is in the military. He asks, "Are you worried about your son dying, because I'm worried about him dying."

She answers each of his questions with a smile in her voice, a voice that is patient, sweet and helpful.

He ends the conversation with the best line ever. Suddenly changing topics, he says, "Do you remember those record player things we used to have? Don't you miss having them around? I just don't know how to do anything with computers."

Then silence.

I smile to myself, understanding his wish for a simpler world, with record player things.

My faith in humanity feels suddenly bolstered, thanks to a woman who took care of a stranger, and thanks to a man who changes the world just by being himself.

Maybe we no longer have the simplicity of "record player things," but by needing the help and support of others, he gives us all the opportunity to create a more compassionate, loving and accepting world everywhere he goes.

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