The Kindness of Strangers

Missy often lives in a world without filters. Which can make life interesting for everyone else in the world.

If you haven’t met our disabled ward yet, don’t worry. When you do, it’ll be pretty unmistakable. For somebody who rarely says much, she has a way of making her presence known very quickly.

In a restaurant, she’s the one who bobs excitedly up and down in her chair when a favorite dish arrives, laughing loudly.

In the downtown, she’s the one who’ll come right up to someone interesting with a wave and a “Hi, you!”

At a concert, she’s not just the one who’s dancing and swaying with the music. She’s the one who’s immediately on arm-grasping terms with the person next to her and who has to tap the person in front of her to see if they’re as excited about all this as she is.

Heather and I try to mediate some of it. But until they master human cloning, there are only so many places we can be at once – and even then, Missy would probably be sidling up to the geneticist with a shy smile and an introductory “Hi …”She has simply never met a stranger.

Which is what makes it so wonderful that so many strangers have greeted her well.

I won’t say 100 percent. The world isn’t perfect and nobody’s patience is infinite. To those few for whom Missy’s presence has reached the point of fatigue in the past, I understand and I wish you well.

And to the many, many, many people who have returned her smile with kindness and her persistence with understanding – thank you.

Thank you to those of you with disabled relatives of your own. Or who have worked with the disabled. Or who simply have a deep reserve of empathy and an open heart.

Thank you for the impromptu conversations in stores and lobbies with someone who can’t wait to show off her new brush or her new shoelace or her cup of pop.

Thank you for the smiles from neighboring tables as she takes in her surroundings with curiosity.

Thank you for being the dance partner of the moment when the music gets loud and the rhythm gets strong. And for listening gravely and engagingly to excitement that almost becomes words, and words that almost become sentences, and sentences that emerge at the most unpredictable times.

I know all of you have your own lives to live. And I am sure it is not always easy to share the world with this unlikely neighbor.

But because you have, and because of how you have, you’ve given me a lot of hope for this world.

It’s been a pretty angry place lately, hasn’t it? So many of the people who catch our attention seem to want to divide, to make distinctions, to push apart in hate and suspicion. There isn’t time to welcome a stranger, not when you have to guard what’s yours. And gradually, life becomes about walls, not doors.

But when I travel with Missy, those walls are so rarely there.

Maybe she simply knows how to pick them. (I’ve known for a while now that she has a strong “jerk detector.”) Or maybe there’s something about her that reaches deep on a first meeting. Whatever it is, it’s a powerful reminder that there is something more. That people can still respond like the friends and family they are inside, that  decency and gentleness are not dead.

That whatever the headlines and politicians may scream, there is still good to be found, and a neighbor may be anywhere.

Thank you all. And if you happen to share a piece of audience with Missy and me at Oktoberfest, I apologize in advance for the distraction.

If you happen to see it as a celebration instead of a distraction – so much the better.

Many thanks, stranger.

Many thanks, neighbor.

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