My Son Challenges Me (And You)

by Marybeth Mitcham

“Mom, why can’t everyone be kind?”

That plaintive question had been prompted, of all things, by a visit to the dentist for my son’s semi-annual teeth cleaning appointment.

While our family has been blessed with some pretty incredible people in our lives, there are always those whose words and actions wound deeply. Unfortunately, when public excursions are involved, you never know what sort of response you will receive.

Our dentist’s office is chock-full of amazing professionals, all of which regularly go out of their way to accommodate the extra time and effort that accompanies caring for a person on the spectrum. Even though I knew that I could expect an overall pleasant reception when I brought my son for his appointment, I was not at all prepared for what we encountered.

Less than a minute after we had arrived for my son’s appointment, a sweet, grandmotherly-type woman came into the waiting room, introduced herself to us, and then sat down in the chair opposite me. With a giant smile wreathing her face, she asked me if it was okay if she chatted with my son.

Slightly surprised, I gave my assent and then watched in awe as this amazing woman brought my son out of his shell.

Overlooking his constant jerky movements, she asked him the perfect questions about himself—what games he liked, what Lego creations he had built recently, what his favorite foods were, and who he thought the best Marvel superhero was. I watched my son come to life, speaking with such excited animation that I initially moved to give him the shoulder-pat which is our signal in public for him to calm down. The sweet lady saw this, and put her hand out to stop me, telling me that it was perfectly okay, and that she was happy that he was happy.

She then told my son that if he was ready, it was time to go back for his teeth cleaning. As my son happily started to walk away, this incredible lady leaned closely to me, and whispered, “It’s okay. My grandson has autism, too. Aren’t they the sweetest kids?”

And at that, she smiled once more at me, patted me on the shoulder, and walked toward my son.

On the ride home, my son asked me the question, “Mom, why can’t everyone be kind?”

The kindness which he had received from a stranger made such an impact on him that my son asked me to write and tell everyone that they should be kind to other people, because everyone deserves to be shown that they matter.

What if we all made a pact that we would go out of our way to show kindness and exhibit grace-in-action to other people?

What if we use the knowledge that we have gained from walking through our own experiences to help other people?

What if we decided to knowingly be “that” person who gives hope to those who are struggling?

What if we showed love to the people who do not go out of their way to show love to us?

What if we chose to speak an encouraging word, telling someone that they are doing a great job, providing encouragement to someone who might desperately need it?

What if we chose to smile at strangers, rather than just go about our daily tasks in our always-hurried fashion?

What if we provided a helping hand to the mom who is struggling to calm her child who is experiencing a meltdown in public, or to the individual in crutches who is struggling to carry packages?

What if we simply chose to be intentional about showing kindness?

We all know what it is like to be on the receiving end of unkind words, actions, and deeds, some intentionally delivered, and others delivered out of ignorance. We hopefully also all know what it is like to be treated with kindness and dignity, and shown love and grace. Where the first experience wounds deeply, often leaving lifelong scars, the second one provides a healing balm for the heart, soothing hurt places that we might not have realized were damaged.

I know that each of us who either personally struggle with the extra hardships brought on by illness, limitations, or disabilities—or who have the dual task and joy of caring for others with those life-challenging situations—often feel like we are scraping the bottom of the barrel ourselves, and have nothing left to give to others. But if we could only take a moment to remember how it felt when someone else went out of their way to be kind to us, or to our loved one, then we might just be able to reach down and tap into some of that incredible strength that we never knew we had, until life’s circumstances caused us to reach new levels of endurance and perseverance that we would not have thought possible.

My son wants me to ask you to accept the kindness challenge, choosing to show kindness to others, because each person matters.

I am accepting the challenge.

Will you?