She’s probably the most joyful person I know. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have to deal with, y’know, jobs or bills or angry clients. She sings to herself. She eats with gusto. When we scold her for misbehaving, she gets quiet for a while, and then she goes back to daydreaming as usual.
Most of the time, she’s pretty quiet. But sometimes, she gets into these hyperactive moods. She runs around with lots of energy and laughs and hyperventilates. She makes an awful lot of noise. She slaps her hands against mirrors and windows. She runs up to boys and puts her face really close to theirs.
When a 5-year old does it, it’s cute. When a 30-year old does it, it scares people off.
My sister doesn’t care what they think. She just does what she does, no matter how many people point and whisper. I’m jealous – I wish I could be as indifferent as she is. Most of the time, I feel bad for the people she bothers. I also feel a little helpless, because I know this will happen again.
But sometimes, people surprise me. They can be a lot more loving than I expect.
We took a trip to Hanoi recently. At the hotel lobby, my sister ran up to a 6-year old boy, pulled off his cap, and stared at him with huge eyes. My parents and I were so embarrassed. We yelled at her, “HEY! DON’T DISTURB OTHER PEOPLE!!!!”
The kid’s dad was awesome. He was this big, burly American dude with a deep booming voice and a beard. He said to his son, “IT’S OKAY! She just wants to be friends! Say hi, Tommy!” And then he turned to us and smiled this big, warm smile.
Today, people are a lot more aware about mental illness and special needs. Most of the time, they aren’t weirded out when they encounter someone who isn’t quite “normal”. Their default response is just to ignore them and carry on playing with their phones (which is totally cool).
But the BEST people – those who light up my day and give me hope for the human race – are those who look at my sister with love. They’re the folks who smile at her, give her a high-five, talk to her, and give her some sweets. They’re those who offer her some colouring pencils to entertain her. They’re those who look at us kindly – the embarrassed family members – and tell us that it’s okay.
These people are my heroes. They show me what it means to be empathetic, to have a heart and to love a fellow human being even – especially – when it’s uncomfortable.
So today, here’s a little challenge. When you encounter someone who isn’t acting “normally”, give them (or their family members) a smile.
It might be uncomfortable. It might be noisy. They might be too flustered or too embarrassed to smile back. But if you can take 5 seconds to reach out and give them some love, that’s worth more than all the money in the world.