The lights went down. The applause rang out. Opening night of another triumphant show was in the books. Time to get changed, get out and celebrate with the cast.
But first I had to leap in the car and race home. The real celebrity was on her way.
“So did she dance every dance?” I asked the driver as we both helped a smiling, exhausted Missy to the door around 11 o’clock at night.
“Oh, yes,” the driver answered as Missy’s smile grew wider. “She had a GOOD time.”
This is not unusual. Our developmentally disabled ward Missy – who is my age physically, but much younger in mind and spirit – has a social calendar that sometimes leaves me tired just thinking about it. There’s the bowling, of course. The Friday night trips and activities, including dancing whenever she can. At different times, there have been art classes and Bible studies, softball games and out-of-town festivals … just about everything short of red-carpet premieres and dinner at Spago.
Mind you, not every hour of every day is filled. There are plenty of nights spent simply listening to music (at FULL VOLUME) or doing a puzzle or waiting impatiently in the bay window for me to get home from work. But Missy is an extrovert at heart, and it’s not unusual for her to grab a coat and head for the front door as soon as she knows I’m back with the car.
“I wan’ go bowling!”
“I wan’ eat the food!”
“I wan’ goooooo!”
And so, more often than not, we hit the bookstore, or the game store, or the reading group, or even a downtown restaurant that knows us so well, they’ve practically reserved her a table. I’ve lost count of how many people recognized her slight frame, warm smile and massive red purse as we go out and about.
It’s impressive. Hard to keep up with sometimes, but impressive.
And it’s a good reminder to look past assumptions.
We’re not good at that. In fact, we’re pretty awful. A recent MIT study found that false news stories circulate more easily on Twitter than true ones, attracting more interest and prompting more retweets. Facebook users are no stranger to the phenomenon, either, frequently posting items that can be proved false in 30 seconds – if anyone bothers to look.
But why bother? After all, we know what we know. And if something reinforces that belief, well then it must be true, right?
Taken to its extreme, it leads to a life of surface impressions and confirmation bias, whether it’s called the bubble, the echo chamber, or the privileged perspective. It’s an easy way to live, if you can call it living. And it’s a lot like driving with a blindfold – however much fun you may be having, you can hurt a lot of people without ever realizing what you’ve done.
It takes more effort to see what’s really there.
Missy doesn’t hide very much. Heck, she wears her feelings on her sleeve in letters the size of the Hollywood sign. But if someone doesn’t want to look past the disability and the speech difficulties, they’d never see the fuller life beneath.
Facts aren’t a hard thing to find on the internet. But if someone doesn’t dig beneath their favorite headlines, they never see the proverbial “rest of the story” or if there’s even a story at all.
Prejudices and biases are fragile things at their foundation – but only if you bother to push.
Get out. Look closer. Question what you see. There’s always a story worth learning, if you take the time to hear it and not just the version in your own head.
And if you’re after Missy’s story, I sure hope you’ve cleared your calendar. And that you really, really like dancing.