Friday, September 11, 2015

The Boat

Lining up, bag in hand. 
It’s our Sunday night ritual in the summer. We catch the 6:15 boat from Nantucket and head home. The boat workers have come to know us. They’ve watched Sam grow up. They make small accommodations for him that makes it easier for Sam and me. Many of the passengers have grown just as familiar.  After years of practice, we have it down to a routine.

Being Labor Day, last weekend was different. The 6:15 boat was sold out so we took the later boat. Everything went seamlessly. One of the boat staff called out, “You’re going home late, Mr. Dog.” We sat as we always do chatting with nearby travelers.

As we arrived near the dock, the usual flurry of activity occurred as some people began to line up. A woman from behind approached my sister politely saying, “May I?” asking to pat Mr. Dog. Sam was standing nearby drinking – or rather happily slurping his soda, unaware of the commotion. He’d recently learned to drink soda from a can by employing an impressively loud slurp.

Above the low din of our fellow travelers, I heard the woman from behind address Sam saying, “Only babies drink soda like that.” I looked over to my sister, perplexed. Was the woman joking?  Sam continued drinking his soda for a few seconds longer and stopped. The story would have ended there with the woman’s intent unknown. Except Sam’s soda can wasn't yet empty.

Sam resumed his loud slurping, sucking out the last drops of soda from his can. The woman spoke again, addressing him more firmly, her voice cutting through the buzz of people collecting their bags, “Has anyone told you it is rude to slurp like that?!”  I was taken off guard. I didn’t speak. I looked instinctively to Sam. He was smiling serenely, smiling his sweet Sam smile.

My sister turned protectively. To the woman, she said, “He is autistic.” Then she added, “You should think before you speak.” The woman looked away as she replied, “I didn’t know. Thank you for telling me…. I’m sorry…” A moment later she was gone. A nearby older woman caught my sister’s eye and nodded to her affirmatively. 

Labor Day weekend. Marking summer's end on Nantucket. 
Then I heard Sam speak as he smiled again. He seemed to sum up the preceding minutes by saying, “This is turning into a difficult situation!” As I assured him the situation was just fine, I had to wonder how much he understood.

On the drive home, I thought about the woman. Clearly she felt badly for her words. That troubled me. I don’t want anyone to feel bad. Still I was glad my sister was able to speak up on Sam’s behalf when I wasn’t.

The takeaway? I don't know. Maybe simply a reminder to resist judging. Things are not always what they seem. Some disabilities are not always visible to the naked eye. A little tolerance goes a long way.

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  1. i always like your ability to find the right lesson out of these situations. "resist judging" is the perfect takeaway here. thanks for this post, always happy to see new writing here.

    1. Thank you. I always value your perspective as well.