Saturday, August 10, 2013

a $1.75 lesson in compassion

There's a lake near our home that in addition to having a miniature railroad and golf course, offers the most wonderful free children's concerts during the summer months.


A few weekends ago, we headed over to catch the free concert on Saturday, while Charlie stayed home and finished building the tree house. Following the show, when the temperature peaked 90 degrees, I took the children to the lake's store for an ice cream cone. As we sat in the little parlor, a man walked in and yelled, "DIET COKE! DIET COKE!"

I could immediately tell that he was mentally handicapped, as could our four children whose eyes nearly bugged out of their head to witness a grown man yelling in a public place.  Two steps behind the man was a woman, who appeared to be his aide. She was trying to calmly reason with him but he didn't want to listen. While she was whispering, "William, William ... I have your lunch. Come on now, let's go outside so you can eat it..." he grabbed his head in his hands and started pulling his hair while rocking back and forth and continuing to yell, "DIET COKE! DIET COKE!"


My children were uncomfortable. 

Who was this man? 

What was he doing? 

Why was he yelling? 

Elizabeth looked up at me and in a barely audible whisper asked, "Mom, can we leave now?" While I understood her tension, I knew that if we went outside with ice cream cones in 90+ degree temperatures, the ice creams would melt before we could eat them and having just spent $16.00 on four little cones - I didn't want for that to happen.  So I told her that we'd leave as soon as everyone finished and in the meantime, let's take a moment and say a prayer for William and his helper that is so gently trying to care for him.  We have a neighbor who has a severe mental handicap. The love, patience and care that her family dotes upon her is a beautiful thing to see.  And here was a grown man, with the mental capacity of a toddler, and a young woman half his size that was unsuccessfully trying to help him.  It was difficult to watch.


Several minutes went past and William who was still demanding a "DIET COKE!" stood up from his chair and then sat down in the middle of the floor with his arms crossed, "DIET COKE! DIET COKE!" he yelled.  A look of defeat washed over his helper's face.  There was no way she was going to move the 200+ pound man off the floor without his consent.  She summoned additional helpers and none of them knew what to do, either.   I tried to think what I'd do if I was in their situation, so I approached them and quietly asked if I could buy him a small Diet Coke? Maybe it would lure him off the floor? They weren't so sure because he has dietary restrictions.

After another few minutes, as our children finished their ice cream cones - which took them longer to consume than under normal conditions because they were distracted by William and his want of a Diet Coke and when children aged eight and six are distracted, they lose track of all other things in the world, including the ice cream cones in their hands ... I went to the cashier to purchase bottles of water.  While I was there I decided that I'd go out on a limb and buy William a small Diet Coke.  With a drink and straw in my hand, I approached the helper and said, "Here, maybe this might help?" 

Her eyes flashed with gratitude.

She turned to William and said, "William, look! I have a Diet Coke for you!  Can you please stand up and sit at the table outside with the rest of our class?"  He crossed his arms a little tighter and rolled his head around in a circle. After another minute or so, while I realized my idea had flopped and wondered if they were going to have to call the paramedics, he suddenly flew off the floor, snatched the cup and straw from her hand and said, "OUTSIDE! DIET COKE OUTSIDE!" before he bolted out the door.


When we came home from our outing, our children told their father about what had happened and they were so excited to think that we'd helped William by purchasing him a Diet Coke.  Charlie then told us a story, which he'd read about earlier in the week, and which we'd not heard before of a mentally handicapped man who died after resisting the police when they tried to arrest him for changing movie theaters.  

My children pondered this story for a while, before my William said, "That poor man. Maybe they should have just let him watch the movie again?  I mean, how much money would it have cost for another ticket?" Since then, he's taken to carrying his little wallet with him whenever we go out, just in case an opportunity presents itself where he can help someone with his hard-earned chore money.

That's my little man. 


And just when I think I can't love him anymore than I do.