When something makes me uncomfortable, I tend to look away.
A scary scene in a movie.
A bloody surgery scene in Grey’s Anatomy.
A painfully awkward acceptance speech during an awards show.
“Out of sight, out of mind.”
I suppose that’s the theory.
Last month, I had an experience that proved this theory is all wrong.
I met a person so beautiful and pure.
And the sad reality is most people don’t get the chance to meet her.
Because they look away.
They feel uncomfortable.
Maybe they don’t know what to say.
It was a Friday morning and I was running early to work, as usual. I don’t like being late.
I picked up doughnuts for the guys at work in celebration for Super Bowl Sunday. I was also coming up on 30 days at my new job and I wanted to thank everyone for being so welcoming and sweet to me. The Leslie Knope in me loves giving gifts and treats for random occasions.
Also, I can’t talk about tonight being the last episode of “Parks & Rec” because it’s my favorite show ever.
Back to my original story…
I still had 20 minutes to spare so I stopped by a local coffee shop, The Coffee Brake, that kept catching my eye on the drive to work.
I passed a few customers walking out. An older lady was waiting for her coffee at the counter. She was making small talk with the owner. I took a few minutes to look around the store. There was only one person making the drinks. I assumed he was the owner of the store. I also noticed a woman sitting in a chair beside him.
From a distance, I thought the woman was an elderly woman. She was hunched forward. I imagined her knitting a scarf for winter as she hung out in the coffee shop with her son.
As I got closer to the counter, I realized the woman was much younger than I originally thought. She was playing with a piece of paper that she rolled up like pen.
“Finding Nemo” was playing on the TV in front of her.
“Hi there,” the owner said. “What can I get for you?”
“Hi” I said. “What a fun morning – watching Finding Nemo!”
I studied the menu, but I already knew what I would order.
“I’ll take an Americano,” I said. “Medium, please.”
The woman looked up at me. I realized that she had a disability of some sort.
I smiled at her and said, “I love Finding Nemo. It’s one of my favorite movies.”
“Yesterday we watched The Jungle Book all day,” the owner said.
The girl stood up and started looking for something. She grabbed the DVD for “The Jungle Book” and walked toward me.
I had no idea what she was saying as she approached me, but I could tell she was excited.
She couldn’t form sentences very well, so I did my best to understand her gestures and words.
She made a monkey sound and pointed to the monkey on the DVD cover.
“Do you love the monkey?” I asked.
She smile and then made the monkey noise again.
I caught a glimpse of her father (or I presume is her father / the owner of the store) smiling.
“She sure loves that movie,” he said.
She grabbed my hand and used it to point to all of the characters on the movie.
Then she took my hand and tugged me forward.
“She knows that you’re new,” the owner said. “She wants to give you a tour.”
She guided me through the store.
She pointed out the bulk coffee that they sell, such a sales lady!
She held my hand as we walked to a “3 Stooges” animation, which turned on when I pressed a golf ball. The characters all started hitting each other with the golf club and she started laughing. Her laugh was so contagious and I found myself laughing as well.
As we walked through the store, she continued to point out artwork that she admired.
I knew she could understand what I was saying to her – even if she couldn’t talk back. I felt her emotions and words through her gestures and heart.
We walked back toward the front of the store and my coffee was done. She didn’t want to let go of my hand.
“She can’t stay here all day,” the owner said.
The girl let go of my hand and sat back in her chair.
I paid for my drink and said, “Thank you so much for the tour. Have fun today!”
“Everyday!” he said. “We have fun every single day.”
His smile was genuine and so was the tone of his voice.
I know some people would be uncomfortable in that situation. Some people feel it’s easier look away and avoid eye contact because they don’t know how to interact with people who are “different.” To be honest, I’m not always perfect in these moments either.
But there was something special about that moment in the coffee shop. I felt like she picked me. She heard the tone of my voice. She felt my eye contact as I made conversation with her about the movie.
I felt so honored and privileged that she picked me. I was so happy I could be a part of her morning.
I got into my car and started bawling.
I couldn’t handle all of my emotions.
It’s so easy to get caught up in our own world.
Our own fears.
Our own worries.
Earlier that morning, I found myself worrying I wouldn’t have enough energy to hit the gym after Coop went to bed.
And here’s a young woman who doesn’t have that choice. She will always need someone to care for her. She will always need someone to help her do even the most simple activity.
I have my health.
I have a home.
I have a job.
I have a supportive family.
I started to re-play all of my worries and realized how silly most of them are in grand scheme of things.
I also realized how important it is to stop looking away from people who are different. I firmly believe our differences can bring us together.
We should all strive to lend a helping hand.
Pass along a smile.
Have a meaningful conversation.
Or even a take spontaneous trip around a coffee shop with a new friend.
Stop looking away from people and situations that make you uncomfortable.
Sit with the person who is eating by themselves at lunch.
Be different. Actually, just be you.
Stand up for someone who is being bullied.
Be incredibly grateful for the life you are capable of living.
And don’t forget to let people know when they’ve touched your heart.