The woman and the boy arrived at the crowded checkout line at the same time as my daughter and I, but she stepped back, and with a wink insisted we go first. She was rewarded a few seconds later when another register opened, and the boy who was carrying what looked like a 15-pound-bag of dog food, was probably relieved. So when I moved over to their line because of a price check delay in mine, the last thing I expected was for this woman to insist we go ahead of her for a second time.
“I know how it is,” she said winking again, as she looked at my mentally disabled daughter. She didn’t need to say more; I knew she either had a child with a disability or was close to someone who did. It’s a good feeling when someone knows what you’re dealing with, and it’s even more amazing and welcoming when it’s a complete stranger.
Common ground is rarely revealed in such black and white fashion, though. It’s not like people walk around with signs on their foreheads announcing the challenges they’re dealing with, whether it’s disabled children, money problems or health issues. It’s not even like people want others to know about their trials and tribulations, but most of us have more in common with the person we pass on the street than we think.
When my daughters were in elementary school, they were mainstreamed with other students as much as possible. Once, a precocious seven-year-old visited the special education class while I was there to pick up my girls. I said that my daughter liked potato chips. “I like potato chips!” she exclaimed. Then I said my daughter liked the color yellow. “I like yellow!” she exclaimed. She was pleasantly surprised to discover my daughter liked some of the same things she did.
I’d like to think that girl, who is an adult now, never forgot that lesson, that she still delights in finding common ground, especially with people who have disabilities. It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own lives and problems–I include myself here–and to see the world through our own limited gazes.
In early June, I went to a focus group for the adult daycare my daughters have attended since graduating from Clover High School in 2006 and 2008. The center provides daytime care and support, not only for those over age 18 with disabilities, but also for the elderly who might attend for socialization purposes or to give themselves and family members a break from routine. There were four of us at the meeting, all parents of children with special needs. But the focus group was about more than our children; it was also about the older patrons–who were given the opportunity to voice opinions at their own meetings–who wanted more say in what when on at the center, whether it was the activities they engaged in or the food they ate.
And isn’t that what we all want? No matter the age, the person’s disability, the race or religion, we all strive for autonomy, to contribute, to have a say in what happens in our lives. Because I could be in your shoes and you in mine.
It really is that simple. And that complex.