Thinking in drafting, again. There is more to this. What comes after giving an honest minute?
We were sitting on a restaurant patio having lunch when a couple walked past with their son. The boy had shoulder length hair. He used a walker. Each step looked like a thought. After they headed in for lunch I said to Justin, That looked difficult. I was talking about raising a child with physical disability. But also the effort of having a disability and learning to walk when it isn’t easy, when it might hurt.
We ate lunch and I took Grant in to use the bathroom. I saw the family from the parking lot sitting at a booth. We stopped to say hello on the way back to the patio. I didn’t say what I wanted to say because what I wanted to say was just taking shape then.
There was something about how the three of them carry an obvious challenge, as partners, parents, child and family. The boy is named Max and his disability means a different kind of life as he grows. His disability means a different kind of parenting, a different kind of normal in a world that loves easy similarity. We didn’t talk about that. We talked about Max’s two front teeth grown in after losing a mouthful when he was six, like Claire now. We talked about why we were in Point, their family and ours not from here but visiting. And then it was time to go. I apologized to Kim, if I was awkward, but she said it was nice to have people acknowledge Max – as he is.
As he is. Skinny limbs, toothy smile, wide eyes. A lime green walker. Two parents with good haircuts. And I wish I’d said to Max that I know he has it tough (and his parents too) and that all the joy doesn’t negate the everyday limp. I thought about how we all carry
challenges but most are rarely as apparent on first glance as Max managing his walker and carefully forming his words.
The other thing I wish I’d said is that while I don’t pity them, I do see them. That didn’t come out in our short conversation and I heard myself say I wasn’t sure why I’d stopped to talk – but Max’s parents have grace that must come from years of being stared at and ignored, and they let me find a goodbye.
I wanted to find this: That I wonder if we would be
if we could see each other’s hurt, fear, injury, illness, doubt, regret. What if I wore my insecurity as splotches on my skin? What if vanity twisted my face so you knew too? What if we could see a marriage tearing at the seams or a family divided by grief? What if we could see loneliness hiding in a crowd? And then, what if we said something? Had an honest minute.
Last summer in Prague I stopped to talk with a couple of teenage girls sitting on a bench. One girl was wearing a tank top, the outside of her arm laddered with scars. I asked about them. I asked if she’d gotten help. She had, she was much better now. Her friends on either side had smooth arms but we all talked about living as we are. At that point, I was a year out from a brief round of self-harm that didn’t scar. I stopped to talk with those young women because I saw an arm that looked how I felt: scarred, healed, not the same as before. And I wanted her to know I saw those scars.
For years yet I’ll think of that young woman and hope she is still wearing short sleeves and making people see this is what life looks like sometimes. And sometimes life looks like a boy walking a crooked step. Sometimes life looks like a lot of us, okay-fine-good on first glance. Give an honest minute. Pull up a sleeve. Admit a limp.