We first spoke when he asked me a question about my chair. I thought, at the time, that his purpose in starting the conversation wasn't so much to get information about the chair, it seemed as if he saw me as another other in the coffee shop near where I live and that he wanted contact. It was like a moment of solidarity. We both are different, we don't have to be different alone. That he had an intellectual disability and I a physical one was of no importance.
Since then I've seen him on several occasions as he waits for the bus at a stop that I routinely pass a couple times a week. We always wave and occasionally, if I'm not rushing, we have a brief chat. It's a nice bit of connection. For both of us. I like the neighbourliness of it.
Then, a couple days ago, I was rushing to an appointment and I saw him standing at the bus stop. He wasn't alone. There were a group of kids in their early teens beside him and behind him. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I could see that he looked distressed. He was IGNORING them and the way he ignored them gave them so much encouragement. That's the problem with ignoring - it's a visible response that says 'I NOTICE YOU AND I DON'T HAVE ANY OTHER WAY OF DEALING WITH YOU.'
The internal tussles, I need to admit to, of "should I or shouldn't I" and "I don't have time" lasted only a couple of seconds. I slowed up. I caught his attention. He waved as he always did. I came over to him, asking the kids to move so I could get my chair past them and stop beside him. I asked him casually how long he'd been waiting for the bus, he said that it had been about five minutes. The kids sized me up and down, decided that I wasn't an easy adversary. When they heard me say, "Well, why don't I wait here with you and we'll just chat," they took off.
I don't know what their aim was.
I don't know why they were swarming him.
I don't know if anything really bad was going to happen.
But I do know that I have a responsibility to care for the people in my neighbourhood, disabled or not. That's what "neighbour" means, at least in my dictionary.
The bus came only a couple minutes later. He thanked me for stopping to chat. I took the thanks and rushed off. I was only a minute or two late for my meeting. Which meant I was there before anyone else.
Bullying can't happen when people of good will step in and step up. Bullying can't happen when people see and take action. Bullies depend upon the inattention and the inaction of others.
It only takes a moment, sometimes, to be part of the solution.