They, they were with their mother. She looked tired. Three boys, all under ten, all coltish and full of boundless energy. They looked like they should be running free in some pasture or playground somewhere, not following their mother through a grocery store.
Me, I was tired. I'd lectured all day in Butler and was stopping to pick up some frozen veggie stuff at the grocery store on the way home. I'd already gone by several families and had kid's heads swivel in complete circles as they watched me pass. I looked frantically around and, predictably, there's never an exorcist when you need one. In three different situations, Joe moved to stand in front of their stares so I could shop in peace.
These boys, however, were very different. The saw me. I saw them see me. They noted my difference. Then they worked very, very, very, very, very, very hard not to stare at me. I could see the effort it took. They knew, because clearly they'd been taught, that staring at people is intrusive, better. One of them, slipping up and having his eyes roam back to me, brilliantly segued into a bright and cheery, "Hi!" And I gave him a less bright and only somewhat cheery "Hi" back. He grinned.
Their effort is to be noted. Kindness takes work. Treating difference respectfully does not come easily or naturally. Each boy's effort was noticeable. I was proud of them. But I was amazed at the parenting they must have received. I was impressed with the desire they clearly had to make the world around them and around me safer. I was heartened by the work they put into controlling their natural inclination to gape at difference.
I wonder if they saw the other kids. The one's who's eyes, at such a young age, had learned to judge and to already weigh the value of others. The giggles and the pointing, obvious gestures of ridicule, forming a pattern that will, one day, form a pattern, a way of seeing others in the world, that will be hard to break.
These boys though. The boys who whipped around their mother's cart, who's flurry of activity was nearly unrestrained, they, they worked at harnessing their eyes. They worked at engaging their hearts and minds into noticing and then accepting difference as simply, just, difference. Their feet are on a different path.
I saw them again later, gathered around their mother all looking at a book in the seasonal section of the store. They were laughing, all of them, together. And at that moment their mother looked a little less tired and a whole lot loved.