Friday, March 22, 2013

To Those Parents of Mentally Disabled Children

The twins and I had spent the last hour pounding the pavement in a local subdivision as we do every Thursday morning, tucking the Word of God beneath the weather stripping of each house's front door.  At four years old, Amelia and Emerson do quite well to keep pace with three other grown-ups who have the advantage of femurs, fibulas, and tibias double the length of theirs.

They pass the time chattering happily about any topic that strikes their fancy, reminding me to pray aloud, picking aromatic bouquets of clover blossoms from front lawns, and searching for forgotten copper pennies dropped on dark, asphalt streets.  Yet, by the hour's end, their skip has lost most of its airy bounce, their incessant chatter is interrupted by longer pauses of silence, and their requests sound more like whines and complaints.

Still, Thursday is the one day a week we are off the farm and near the local mega mart, which means a weekly trip for supplies is in order, tired feet or not.  Thankfully, the store welcomes mothers like me with a line of super-sized shopping carts our front, each equipped with a molded bench seat that holds up to 160 pounds.

The twins climb wearily on board, shove the "baby" straps and buckles aside, and lean back, their dangling feet still not quite long enough to reach the floor of the cart.  As always, I tilt forward as if walking in a stiff wind.  Much force must be applied to this too-heavy object not yet in motion.

Once inside, though, the cart easily rolls across the frictionless glossy white tiles.  Still, I feel like I'm commandeering an unwieldy18-wheeler or a zoo train down aisles intended for a Volkswagen beetle.  I constantly warn the passengers to keep their hands and legs inside the vehicle at all times.
As if my sheer size doesn't draw enough attention, Amelia sings her way down the pickle and peanut butter row and continues her tune up the row with the breakfast cereal. To the cart, I add two packs of the 48 double roll toilet paper on sale, the largest feed sack of catfood the store keeps in stock, and a week's worth of groceries.

Finally, I push an overly-full shopping cart out into the sun, no easy feat at this point.  The parking lot, though, has a slight downhill slope from the mega mart's double-wide doors to my minivan.  We coast so easily with kinetic energy that I have to jerk hard to stop.

And that's when I notice him, the same man I see each week working to collect shopping carts in the parking lot.  Rain or shine, freezing cold or breathless heat--he's out there.

As usual, he's hunched forward a bit as he walks, is muttering slightly to himself about something.  From the way he carries himself and his coke-bottle glasses to his not quite symmetrical face and disheveled hair, it is obvious he is one who has struggled in this life with a mental disability.

I'm sure he's borne others' cruelty as well, sure he's been called "simple," "stupid," and likely much worse by others who want to make themselves feel superior at another's expense.  

Maybe to compensate for how I know others have treated him, I've always gone out of my way to be kind, nodding my head with a smile or speaking a simple word of greeting each time we pass.  Although I'm sure he never remembers me in a sea of other mothers with equally noisy children, he smiles back or sometimes mutters an almost inaudible greeting in reply.

Today, though, he doesn't pass me by and head for the full buggy return.  Instead, he stops at my van and asks if I'd like help.  Before I can even recover from my surprise, the twenty-four pound bag of catfood is on his shoulder.  Effortless.

He picks up my huge towers of toilet paper, my bags of bananas, and milk as I unload the bagels, cereal, and other random supplies. It is seconds before we are done.  I utter a simple "thank you" as he takes my buggy, and then he is gone without a reply.

As I turn over the engine, he is parking my shopping cart back at the store's entrance where it will be waiting for me (and other overwhelmed mothers) the next time I return.  I am close to tears as I explain to the twins why he was helping me.

"What a blessing!"

Never has anyone offered to help me load my groceries.  I've struggled across parking lots before with much larger loads--some that I had to hold onto with both hands or they'd fall off the cart--all while strong, able men passed me by with little more than a glance.

I wish I knew this man's parents so I could tell them what a blessing their son was to me today.  I wish I could tell them that no matter his disabilities, his limited matter how many things he can  never do in life, he was helpful to a woman he perceived to be in need.

I wish I could tell them how their son's inner kindness was the biggest blessing of my entire day.

It doesn't matter how smart you are, how strong you are, how rich you are.  A meek, kind spirit can sometimes make the biggest impact of all.

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