Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting It Wrong, A Habit of Mine

He stared at me every time he walked by. Openly stared. He was just a little boy, always holding on to a hand almost out of reach, rushing by on little legs quickly following the slower strides of longer legs. He'd turn right round and stare at me. I'll admit, and I kinda don't want to, I was cutting him way more slack because he had Down Syndrome. That's wrong, I know it, we don't have to talk about it. I don't like anyone staring at me, anyone of any type, any stripe.

I was reaching the end of my tolerance with his stares, I kept wondering what brought him and the hand he was holding back and forth by so often. 'Just stop it,' I thought. I fell into a powerfully intense conversation with a young father of a child with Down Syndrome and we spoke softly and privately. I did not notice that that little boy was now standing beside tall legs, looking round them at me. I kept trying to simply avoid his eyes.

But then I thought I saw him make a movement so I looked. He did it again. I was thunderstruck. He made a small pluck at his shirt. A bright yellow shirt. I was wearing my bright yellow shirt because I told my bright yellow shirt story during the keynote speech. I smiled at him. He grinned at me.

I wonder how often I get it wrong. I wonder how often old wounds and old patterns determine how I see and react to the world. I wonder how often I leave somewhere carrying hurt that my supposition inflicted, hurt that was never dealt out - keenly felt anyways.

My yellow shirt.

He found something about me to which he identified. He a boy. Me a man. He a kid with Down Syndrome. Me a guy in a wheelchair. Across the great divide of difference, he found something that made us the same.

A yellow shirt.

I was getting on an elevator and someone called that the little boy wanted to wave goodbye. I turned and waved. He smiled.

His eyes ...

His eyes ...

His eyes reflecting my bright yellow shirt.

17 comments:

Jeannette said...

Yeah, you got it wrong.
And then you got it right.
And that, dear Dave, makes all the difference.

We all get things wrong a lot of the time. Of course we do. But keeping the mind open, leaving room for the "Aha!" moment, well, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

rickismom said...

We all do this sometime.
Shortly after Ricki (who has Down S) was born, we were on a bus and a teen got on the bus with a brother. The teen payed his way, and was acting very "normal" (I mean, why not?) But my son who was with me, a child of 7 compared to Ricki's 3 months was all eyes. I wispered to him not to stare,but he had trouble not doing so. He was very interested in the young man with DS. (This child was well aware of Ricki's diagnosis.)The young man with DS did not notice the stares, but his brother may have. Luckily I had the mother's phone number, and I phoned her later that evening, to ask that she tell her children that if they noticed a child staring on the bus, it was not a critical stare, but a "wanting to get information" and "Gee, WOW, he is like everyone else" stare.....
PS. So you got it wrong. A "habit"? Hardly. Usually you are right on target.....

Dave Hingsburger said...

rickismom, i hate to admit it but i'm only on target on the blog because i've processed the situations and ideas ... in real life, i get it wrong way more than it would seem. its much easier to be insightful a few days later when writing about something that happened than in the moment! but thanks to you and jeannette for the encouragement.

Jim said...

Dave,
I think the thing that makes you different is your willingness to admit when you have got it wrong, rather than defend your position like most people do.

Lianna said...

I agree with Jim.

And I love this post very much. There are days when going to the grocery store with my son who has Ds makes me brace my shoulders in defensiveness because ultimately he is stared at continuously by strangers. But I still have that little voice inside my head proclaiming, "I'd stare too. He's too darn cute!" :)

Anonymous said...

Dave, you have such a wonderful way of writing. You always make me look for the yellow shirts.

Andrea S. said...

Dave,

What Jim said.

Belinda said...

"Getting it wrong" is a habit of all of us as Rickismom said. And our perception becomes our reality.

The beauty of getting older is that we are less quick to judge and quicker to confess our mistakes--although I shouldn't judge the younger generation, should I? :)

Ettina said...

I often stare at disabled people I see around - less so now that I have disabled friends. The main reason is because, as an invisibly disabled person, I often feel alone in a group of people. When I see another disabled person, it's a comforting thought that I'm not the only one with some kind of difference there. I wish there was some readily recognized signal for invisibly disabled people to nonverbally indicate their disability. I try letting myself stim more than I usually do, but I'm not sure if anyone notices.

Cole said...

It's funny- this struck me reading the story. Since you were giving your "yellow shirt" talk- and you were somewhere where this dad and boy kept passing by- I wondered also if they had been in your talk and the boy had heard you talking about your yellow shirt and had made that connection during the talk and was reaching out. Maybe that was your point already- I took it to be that you thought he just noticed the shirt. I know the main overall message was one of our baggage coloring what we see/hear. My baggage caused me to cheer the boy on in the story for knowing his shirt, his colors, and you vs him. He's showing how smart he is! Since he was walking I'm guessing he was over 2 years old. My Abby who has Ds is 21 months old and very into identifying her environment. She's constantly pointing out things that she knows and it struck me that this boy being presumably, even older then Abby probably was learning his colors and clothing names and noticed when you were talking about them and was trying to tell you that he heard you and how he is learning. At least that's what struck me reading the story- with my own "baggage".

Kristin said...

Like Jeanette said...
Yeah, you got it wrong.
And then you got it right.
And that, dear Dave, makes all the difference.


I never, ever fail to come away from here with inspiration or insight or even just a good chuckle. Thank you Dave.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Love this post. I hope that sometimes I will think that maybe it is the "yellow shirt" afterall that attracts someone my way.

Colleen

Brenda said...

Thanks for this, Dave. The next time I'm feeling unfairly scrutinized, I'll check to see what colour shirt I'm wearing. Hopefully I won't miss those "Aha!" moments quite so often. :)

Penny Green said...

Hi Dave,

I witnessed something similar on Saturday evening at the Down's Heart Group Dinner/Disco. We had invited a guy I met in Nigeria on my visit last year to MC the evening for us adn he was sat on the top table next to me.

All through dinner, one of my young friends with Down's Syndrome kept waving from her table but I wasn't sure who she was waving at. When we finished eating it soon became clear as her mum pushed Claire over in her wheelchair to see Chuks.

The natural first thought was that she had singled him out for attention as the only black person in the room - but no. As she sat the other side of the table to him Claire was busy signing to her mum about Chuks arms (he was born with shortened upper limbs).

Claire had realised that like her, he was a little different and she wanted to show him that it didn't matter, she was still his friend. It was actually very touching and they became best buddies for the rest of the evening.

It just shows, doesn't it, that sometimes we can be too quick to assume that because we've experienced negative attitudes, that anyone looking is behaving the same, whereas your little boy was probably just too shy to come straight over and point out his yellow shirt, maybe even because he's been rejected for making approaches to people before.

Leah said...

My daughter with DS is 14, and stares at people ALL the time! This drives me crazy, really. She's not being rude or anything, she's genuinely interesting in what they're doing, or buying. Most of the time it's other kids, and what she really wants to do is go up and say hello, (and she often does, which leaves the other kid a little shell shocked because some kid they don't know just said hello to them, AND it was one of "those" kids!) I can tell her "don't stare" all I want, it does no good. I've explained that she doesn't like it when people stare at her, so she shouldn't do it to others, but she doesn't get it. If she sees someone in a wheelchair though? She goes beyond staring! She moves into pure GLEE!! She will lock eyes with the person, she will ask them all kinds of questions if we're close enough and given the opportunity. (I try to limit this, to spare the poor victim of her attention. A hello and ONE question in plenty.) Questions like, "What happened to your legs? Do you have crutches at home? Do you have braces on your legs? Do you go to therapy? Does your mom help you get in your chair? (doesn't matter if your 10 or 70, she'll ask you this.)" and stuff like that. Why? Because she is identifying you with her friends at school who use wheelchairs, and you have just become her instant friend because you are "different" like she is. I know she likes the wheelchairs, so for awhile I tried to teach her to just say, "I like your chair" instead of bombarding the person with questions. This would allow her to talk to the person (who may not feel like talking to her!) without forcing them to suffer through her interrogation. But it didn't work since she talks 100 miles an hour. I've tried, and I keep trying. Someday I hope she stops harassing those who are different like her.

Cynthia F. said...

And how many of us non-disabled assume that if a little kid is staring it's because they want to connect, to identify? I learned a lesson from this too, Dave.

Cynthia F. said...

Ettina, great idea - reminds me of the "freedom rings" that LGBT folks and allies used to wear. I wonder if there could be a special necklace or bracelet or something so that people would know you're in "the club." Could also, like freedom rings and rainbow flags and pink triangle buttons, become a sign of pride...