A few weeks ago the Diva excitedly created and sent an invitation to a family friend to join her for lunch at school. She was thrilled. Tom is a wonderful guy with a great sense of humor; he is a kid at heart.
Tom is 34 and attended a Colorado University for his degree. His life is still all about the Buffs and being as active as possible, but he is no longer as active as he would like because he has ALS. Although he doesn't have the ALS that will prevent him from breathing at some point, the disease is such that he will soon be in a wheel chair. He is currently using a walking stick, which, in itself, has been quite an adjustment. Because of his ALS, Tom and his wife will not have kids, and they are living the fullest lives possible (and sharing in the joy of the kids around them).
Tom selected last Monday to join the Diva for lunch.
My daughter doesn't think twice about handicaps or disabilities or adversity. She has been surrounded by "differences" throughout her life. They are just a little piece of a person that makes them different - as we are all different. Bringing Tom to lunch was something she celebrated and anticipated until she told one of her friends.
"Cindy laughed when I told her Tom had to use a walking stick." The Diva explained to me that morning when I asked why she was nervous. It was my understanding that Cindy's brother had a visual disability so I had expected her to be a bit more understanding of differences.
"I don't want' people to laugh at him or me."
My heart broke. Tom is an amazingly wonderful person with a great mind and a love of life and kids. The children would have a wonderful time with him. Throughout the planning period, I never stopped to consider that there might be an "issue" for either him or the Diva in this venture.
This was Tom's first excursion, with walking stick, into a school full of kids. And kids, as we all know, can either easily accept or be somewhat cruel.
I reminded the Diva about the wonderful person that Tom is, the challenges that he might face in coming, and how it was her job to not worry so much and to be a good friend. I explained that everyone, everyone, is handicapped. Some handicaps are easy to see wile others aren't. It takes a brave person to have an open mind and to be open to the possibilities that this person has something to share and to give - visible handicap or not.
The Diva is a sensitive kid and sometimes she would prefer not to be brave, but she is brave. Moreover, she is a good friend with a big heart.
So when the moment finally arrived, she met Tom in the hall and walked with him to lunch. She bought his meal and found them two chairs together. Then she and her friends laughed. They joked, and talked, and had a wonderful time with Tom. Her friends didn't laugh at him, they laughed with him about everything. A good time was had by all.
The events of last Monday opened my eyes a little. Being a person who embraces diversity and who celebrates differences, I rarely stop to consider that there are people who feel similarly about everyone and everything being "the same." There are people who are uncomfortable with the diversity that the Diva and I appreciate.
I am raising my daughter in an environment that is anything but "the same." It is a non-conventional life that we live. She is exposed to different cultures, ethnic groups, and disabilities and accepts those differences with an open heart and mind. Yet there is a strong pull for her to be "the same" and to fit in with her peers.
I wonder if, as we strive to be like our peers and fit in, we are losing the enrichment that comes from having an open mind, diverse ways of thinking and operating, and appreciating all that can be found in the unique and unusual? It is nice to have similarities; and, it is an enriching experience to explore and appreciate differences whether it be physical challenges, ethnic diversity, cultural differences, unique thinking, or one of the many other qualities that make each person an individual.