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I freely admit, that I have always felt uncomfortable interacting with people who have intellectual disabilities. My brain knows, not all of them can understand what a dwarf is, and many of their reactions are truly innocent. But my emotions do not understand this.
My dilemma is always: Is this person a jerk laughing at me, or, do they have some hidden disability that could explain things better? Something happened to me this week that I hope to never forget.
My wife Bonnie and I were at the food court the other day. As we sat down to figure out what we wanted to order, I noticed a fellow drinking coffee just a few seats away. The gentleman looked at us with a big goofy grin, and I swear, he laughed out loud. Immediately my weirdo alarm bells began ringing.
Bonnie and I decided on different lunch menus, and went our separate ways to order our food. A few minutes later, scanning the busy tables, the ONLY spot available, was the one with the LOL fellow. Reluctantly, I sat down and waited for Bonnie to return.
Normally, I’m a friendly person, prone to starting conversations with friendly people at the drop of a hat. Not so with LOL fellow. I just sat there quietly, wondering to myself: Creep or not? You never can tell just by looking.
Despite my best efforts at ignoring him, while I began unpacking my meal, I looked up several times. He looked at me, nodded and smiled. I smiled back, but still felt unsure where all this was going. Thankfully I was given a chance to justifiably ignore LOL fellow again when Bonnie arrived with her lunch tray, and we started eating and chatting.
Almost immediately I noticed there were no napkins with the food I had just purchased. I said to Bonnie, “Man, I specifically asked for napkins to be included, and guess what? No napkins!”
“No problem” Bonnie replied, “have one of mine”.
At one point, LOL fellow had left. I breathed a sigh of relief that I would not have to fend off strange questions, or face awkward moments. Then I noticed him walking towards me, napkins in hand, with that same big grin on his face as when he randomly laughed out loud what felt like hours before.
My heart skipped a beat, but I managed a smile back at him and said, “Oh, for me?”
“Yes. Self-serve. Right at the counter over there” he replied, his smile growing even wider.
I took the proffered napkins and said to him “Well, that’s very kind of you sir, thank you so very much!” Again, his smile grew to the size and intensity of an incredibly warm summer sun.
Then he shaped his hand into the universal “fist bump” symbol, and I replied in kind as we shared a friendly fist bump. Feelings of shame washed over me as I realized how prejudiced my thoughts had been. And double shame on me, being disabled and all, fearing even the possibility that I might have to deal with a person with an intellectual disability.
Talk about the universe slapping me around and waking me up. As uncomfortable as his laugh might have made me earlier on, clearly, his behavior thereafter showed he was intelligent enough to understand my words, and nice enough to act upon my needs in the nicest way possible.
May I never forget the lesson I learned that day: Reserve judgment until you know for sure if a person is a creep, or, just a person with different mannerisms but a heart gold.