Won’t YOU be my Neighbor?
The term community has two distinct meanings: 1) A group of interacting people, living in some proximity (i.e., in space, time, or relationship). Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion. The term can also refer to the national community or international community, and, 2) in biology a community is a group of interacting, living organisms sharing a populated environment. A community is a group or society, helping each other.
Today I could have used any of these definitions. I really needed a community…but, there was none to be found.
I don’t know why we, as humans, struggle so much with this concept. We see insects, plants, and animals that form thriving communities, yet people fail at this over and over. Why is it that lower life forms can out-master us in this arena??
I don’t know how to fix this. “It’s easy to talk about “community” only in shallow and positive terms—how helpful it is in promoting growth, teamwork, and so on.” We just aren’t very good at putting these words into practice. It’s like we’re all in a play. We know our lines and stage movements, but when the lights come up and the music starts, we get stage fright. We choke up and leave the other players hanging, trying to improvise their way out of a scene that is tanking…tanking REAL bad.
I Soooo felt like that today. I was the one left hanging. Actually, Micah AND me were left hanging in a train-wreck of a scene.
How did this play out? (ha-ha, I made a pun)
Let me take you back to the beginning…..
Tuesday. This is our one day off from his therapy schedule for his autism. I use it mostly to run errands & do chores. Today we needed to drop off paperwork at SD Regional Center for Micah, and then make copies, & send out an important letter for me. We finished dropping off the paperwork for Micah, but I could tell that the kiddo was already having a tough day. He was acting over-tired and stressed out. Probably having a bit of teething pain too. He was already cranky & acting frustrated with everything he encountered. This was my warning sign, but I figured that he just wanted to nap earlier than usual.
He did fall asleep just as I pulled up to the UPS store. I decided I would not just drive home and put him to bed. This was my one day to get stuff done, and I just needed to accomplish this ONE, Small task… then we could go home. With my mind made up, I decided it would be easier to put him in the stroller, rather than wake him up…except, the kiddo awoke as I was lying him down in the stroller. We struggled for a minute over whether he wanted to stay in the stroller or walk with me. The verdict was to stay in the stroller. This changed when we set foot in the store and he saw the train table. He jumped out of the stroller to go play. The train table is usually a lifesaver. It keeps the kiddo occupied & happily playing while I do my business. …Not Today.
When Micah is hurting and/or overtired or overstimulated EVERYTHING frustrates him. EVERYTHING. Including things he usually enjoys. The train table became my kid’s enemy. If the train fell off the track, he would cry. If he could get it to move properly, he would cry….etc. The crying and frustration started to escalate. I would stop making copies every few seconds and come over to try and help. Twice, I took him away from the table and held him to try and calm him, but nothing worked. I could tell this was going downhill REAL FAST. I tried to work faster, but Micah’s frustration level was quicker than me. It was going to win this round. I thought about leaving, but I hadn’t paid for my services yet, so I figured perhaps it would be easier to just keep trudging through until I was finished. I only needed 1 minute of non-interruption.
By now, we had the WHOLE store’s attention: the 2 clerks, the UPS delivery man, the lady at the counter, a man in the back on his cell phone, and a business man that was sitting inches from the train table waiting for someone. ….Then it happened. Micah had a COMPLETE MELTDOWN. I’m talking about a: throw yourself on the ground, banging your head, slapping your face, screaming/crying meltdown. I tried desperately to keep him from hitting his head. I knew that I couldn’t stop the meltdown at this point, but the headbanging-form-of-self injury still upsets and freaks me out. I try to soften the blow so he’s only hitting my hands, not the floor. (Even after hearing from adolescents or adults with autism about why they head-bang, I still find this a difficult behavior to deal with. If I could get rid of one thing about autism it would be the self-injury.)
Micah hasn’t had many meltdowns, so when he does it still catches me unprepared. I’m not as good at reading the warning signs as I am with other behaviors or problems. While this interaction was happening, I desperately wanted to leave the store, but still was aware that I hadn’t paid for my purchases yet. I was starting to feel desperate, not knowing what the best course of action was…how was I going to pay & get my child calmed enough to remove him from the situation?? I really wanted help, but I was alone, in a room surrounded by onlookers. Most of them (aside from a few under-the-breathe comments) acted like they didn’t see what was going on…most of them, EXCEPT the man sitting near the table. He snidely chuckled to himself and shook his head in rude, disappointment of this “unruly” child and mother who couldn’t discipline him. ( I was proud of myself for not lashing out at this man for mocking my child. Though, I really wanted to punch him & scream at him. I didn’t do this, but I SURE wanted to.)
This is where I want to stop my story and interject my comments about community.
Is this real-life situation, Micah and me were lacking a community. We had become actors in this drama, while those around us became an audience (plus one jester), watching the scene unfold. No one stepped in. No one interacted with us. This is all too often how it plays out. It doesn’t have to always be this exact scene with a special needs child. It can be any number of situations. More often than not, we just stand there, pretending not to look, but straining to see – like driving by a crash on the freeway.
Can I give you my feelings on this? From someone on the other side of all the onlookers – when the events are taking place, what that person wants is some HELP. We want, No, we NEED for someone to step-up and offer assistance. Would you stand by while someone is drowning and just watch? No, not likely. You would at the very least call the lifeguard over. Why then do we let others “drown” in difficult situations? Are we too afraid to act? Embarrassed that they won’t want help? Well, what’s the worse that can happen – that they will tell you they don’t want help…that doesn’t seem THAT awful, now does it? I think I can risk a tiny bit of rejection for my fellow neighbor…especially when the alternative is letting them drown.
At the store I DID manage to pull my screaming child into my arms and wrestle with him, while he struggled through his meltdown. I patiently waited to pay for my services, all the while I never made eye contact with anyone, but the store clerk. I desperately wished someone HAD asked to help. I would had gladly accepted the assistance of someone helping me get my wallet from my purse, so I could pay, OR even offering to pay my $1.51 bill, so I could just leave.
That didn’t happen for us because we’ve become too much of an audience and less of a community of people, but I write today so that maybe next time someone will step up to help that individual with desperation in his or her eyes.
I’m pretty sure we were the “Talk of the Town” after we left, with all sort of assumptions of what happened, but I didn’t need a performance review. I just needed a friendly neighbor and a helping hand.
Today, I challenge you to move past the “stage fright”. Step out and take a risk to be someone else’s community. Help someone know they are not alone.