Monday, August 20, 2012

Ariel

Today, I was talking to the father of an autistic daughter. He adores her. He watches her every move. He delights in her accomplishments. He rejoices in her smile. He says in amazement, "Look at her go. That's my girl." His daughter--who we'll call Ariel--has moments of slow, melancholy strolls and bursts of erratic, spontaneous flinging of her entire body. 

He told me how the other day, Ariel was lingering very closely to a family they didn't know and she started spinning circles and wildly exploring her environment with every limb. He looked anxiously at the family, expecting their dismayed looks and confusion, but instead they smiled and talked sweetly to Ariel even though she couldn't respond. He was relieved. Someone cared. Someone understood. 

There are many different groups of people in the world. Groups separated by gender, by race, by language, by ability, by hobbies, by so many different things. And we all grow comfortable with our own unique group. We become accustomed to thinking, "I am the norm. People different than me are the exception." We all operate with a certain narcissistic quality that makes us think we are all that matters.

But then, I meet Ariel. A little girl who is autistic. She and her family operate on a completely different level of norms. They've never communicated with her verbally and probably never will. A typical day involves dressing her, feeding her, and doing everything in their power to look into her eyes and try to understand what she needs and how to love her.

Sometimes I am welcomed into a world so different from my own. Like when I've been blessed to work in the special education classroom. I love interacting with the students because they are so different. Or when I've worked with blind campers at summer camp. They live on sounds and braille and radio and touch. They are delighted by the smallest things and bent over in laughter at the corniest jokes. They have so many reasons to be bitter and frustrated and sad, but instead they're joyful and generous and alive. 

Just days ago, I was dreading this last week of camp. Going through the motions. Just getting by. Getting it over with. But then I met blind campers we'll call Mike and Jayson and Sophie. People who absolutely amaze me with their spirit. And I'm reminded that while I thought this week would be a hard dose of anxiety and extra stress, it has actually brought me a much needed serving of peace and perspective.




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