And everyday, he wanders around town, in dirty clothes and smelling distinctly less than fresh as a daisy.
I've only encountered him a couple of times. I've seen him, countless times, though, as I've driven through town, but I've only been directly near him twice. I feel so bad for him and I don't want to do or say anything to make him feel judged whenever I am near him. So, I do nothing. I say nothing. I avoid eye contact. I told myself that I was treating him like everyone else. But, I wasn't.
Today, I realized that.
Lizzie and I were running into Walgreen's. As I pulled into my parking space, I realized that "Grizzly Adams" (one of the nicknames) was sitting on the bench in front of my van. I didn't think too much about it and proceeded to unload Lizzie and chat with her as I always do. As we were walking by him, I did what I usually do which was nothing. But, as we walked by, something happened. My Lizzie, who spent months refusing to talk in school, has hid behind my legs when strangers smiled at her, has glared at people who said hi to her (that was always embarrassing); did something that I wasn't expecting. She turned to him, waved and said "Hi."
I looked back and saw him smile and wave back at her. And, I smiled, too. At the risk of sounding too dramatic, it was a beautiful moment.
I can say with total honesty that I have never deliberately been rude to this man, never shunned him, or hurried my kids past him. But, did I ever take an extra moment to show him any basic human kindness? No. But, Lizzie did. And, I don't think it's unrealistic to say that she probably made his day. I know she made mine. And, I have ever been more proud of her.
But, I didn't feel too proud of myself. No, it's not my responsibility to do anything. But after a lifetime of working and volunteering with people with disabilities, I should have known better. People with disabilities don't want to be ignored or watch you pretend that they are not there. They want to be treated like everyone else. That is tricky, though. I mean, I don't make eye contact with every single person that I come in contact with. But if I walk directly by a person, there's a decent chance that I would. So, I wish I had with him. Just like people say hello to me because they see me everywhere and remember me (well, they remember my kids); I could've said hello to him. I'm sure he realizes that everybody knows who he is. Any man who can navigate his way all over town can also sees all the people who see him but pretend not to.
I'm a big believer in equal rights. For everybody. And, it is one of my greatest hopes that we will successfully raise the kids to feel the same way. I think the fact that we're inherently such a unique family automatically increases the odds. :) Today, as I watched Lizzie show kindness to a man who probably doesn't see a lot of it; I think we've succeeded. And, I am so grateful for that. But, Lizzie reminded of something else. She reminded me to practice what I preach.
So, off I go to get more practicey and less preachy! Well, a little less preachy, anyway... ;)