Wednesday, February 06, 2008
One day my mother and I passed a mother with several children on the sidewalk. As we walked by, one of the boys stopped and spoke to me.
"Hi, my name is Daniel," he said.
He was an average looking teenage boy: tall and lanky, with a thatch of blond hair. But from his speech I could tell that he wasn't what most people would call "normal." It didn’t take me long to figure out that he had autism.
"I'm Shannon," I replied, quite taken aback by the friendliness of his greeting.
He shook my hand cordially, a huge grin covering his face. Apparently not satisfied with shaking my hand, he gave me a hug. I had no idea what to do. I had expected to feel threatened by this violation of my “personal space,” but I realized that I didn't mind it at all.
By now both of our mothers had stopped.
"Do you know her?" Daniel's mom asked him.
"Yes," he said. "She's my friend."
"She's your friend?"
"Yes, she told me her name," he said, still grinning.
We talked a little with Daniel and his mom, and after several more hugs Daniel parted from us reluctantly.
I couldn't help thinking about my rather unusual encounter with Daniel -- it was certainly unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I came to see that although Daniel may not be "normal" (whatever that means), he is completely unaware of the fact and perfectly happy the way he is. Meeting Daniel made me grateful that I don't have to deal with the challenges of autism. But it also made me grateful for people like Daniel who brighten my life by their sweetness and innocence. I was his friend just because I told him my name.
I don’t pity Daniel. He is special -- not only because he was created by God, but also because he brings happiness to other without even knowing it. Perhaps he will never be at the top of his class or even graduate from high school, but in my eyes he is a success. I'm grateful to God for allowing our paths to cross.