A true story from a childhood friend of mine:
Intellectually disabled boy/man (maybe 20 y.o. but very hard to tell) on NYC subway. Train was so delayed people had given up and were sitting on the floor. He was with a woman who also seemed like she might be intellectually disabled but it wasn’t so clear. The boy/man said a few times that he had to pee. I was a bit worried he might pee on the floor & I had a heavy laptop bag on the floor which I preferred did not get soaked in pee. Maybe this is the reason I Got Involved.
The train had been stopped a very long time. I told him he could pee between the car doors. He didn’t hear me at first so I repeated it. And someone said why don’t you take him? So I walked him to the doors at the end of the car (“excuse us, excuse us” to the people sitting on the floor) and opened them. But he wasn’t very coordinated. He stood with one foot on each car (not the best way to maintain your balance) and was very unsteady. If the train started to move it would be trouble. Fortunately he realized this and chose to go back in before he even unzipped. “Its dangerous,” he said a few times. Once we were safely inside he said “do you know my bus driver, Mr. Smith? Mr. Smith causes traffic delays on Dekalb Avenue.” He repeated this a few times as he appeared convinced I must know Mr. Smith.
He didn’t seem to be in any hurry to go back to the woman he was with and he started to say that he didn’t know how to get home and his phone battery had run out and I said are you with that other woman? “The Asian Woman?” he said. “Yes I’m with her.” I said do you want to go back with her? And he said no. And I said does she know how to get you home? and he said yes and I said well I think you should probably go back with her and so we walked back to her (“excuse us, excuse us”). He announced that he was very shy and scared and I told him not to worry that we were not in a dangerous situation and he was doing great.
Eventually the train started moving and we got to a station. The Dekalb Avenue station, in fact. And the Asian Woman thanked me and said to the boy/man let’s go. But he wasn’t moving. and then he hugged me. The Asian Woman said come on we have to go but he wasn’t hearing it. He only wanted to hug me. Finally I was worried he would miss his stop so I gently pried him away from me and let him go. Fortunately for him, I am in general a big fan of hugs 🤗.
It’s amazing what happen when people feel seen and treated with dignity and respect.
Among the gifts offered by the developmentally disabled, is a slowing down and cutting right to the heart of things. Kindness makes a huge difference to people. It helps deal with fear. It helps calm down anxiety. A small dose of consideration can make a huge difference for someone.
The moment that stands out for me is the boys question, “do you know my bus driver, Mr. Smith?” The effort my friend made to help this boy allowed the boy to feel completely seen and understood, as if my friend now knew everything about the boy, including his bus driver in a city of many millions of people. And how he causes traffic delays, as if my friend also shared the boys frustration with Mr. Smith.
Once my friend shifted out of “don’t want this kid to pee on my laptop” mode and into being helpful mode, the effort to connect to this boy shifted his whole perspective. The train being stopped went from a scary, dangerous situation to one that he could handle. The difference that this made for this kid and the gratitude he felt came through in his hug!