Tacit Understanding

October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Tonight, at the movie theater in Logan Square, a girl almost brought me to tears. She was one of two girls, probably not older than juniors in high school, who were working behind the counter. As my friend carefully made a candy decision, I noticed the transaction to my left taking much longer than normal, for a vacant concessions counter in a quiet theater.

I overheard a few phrases, and glimpsed back and forth out of the corner of my eye. Then, I became enraptured in the exchange.

One girl was helping this large, uncomfortable-looking man, when the other girl came over to assist. The man looked visibly strained, as he became silent and nervous. The second girl watched the man for a moment while she pretended to be busy behind the counter.

As the man was carefully and repeatedly counting his bills, the girl patiently asked “How much do you have?”

In an instant the man loosened up and said “about $7.20,” with only a slight quiver.

Without hesitation, the girl said “that’s good” and accepted what the man had to give.

While the man was gathering his things, the woman he was with came to his side to help him with the treats. As they prepared to walk away, the girl said “there’re free refills on the sodas. And the popcorn too.”

The man’s shoulders loosened and the woman knowingly responded “oh, that’s new, huh?”

To which the girl smiled and said “yes.”

My younger brother has developmental disabilities and often gets flustered and anxious when people talk directly to him. He can’t read or add, but until he opens his mouth, you would think he was a normal young adult, taking his girlfriend on a date to a movie. I know he is slow. I know he needs to be talked to differently than most people. I know he doesn’t understand many of the intricacies of this world we live in. But I know that he is a human being with thoughts and emotions and fears. What I didn’t know, until tonight, was that other people knew that too.

When I saw the girl at the movie theater treating this man – who is seen as strange and scary by most everyone else he encounters – as a person like any other person, who just needs a little more help than others, I wondered where my younger brother had been to today, and who he met along the way.

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