Something redeeming happens when you admit your deepest hurts—you meet people.
People become part of the healing.
My son Max and I had a terrible experience when we went to the movies last month. Maybe you read about it. Max broke movie theater etiquette and was talking through the previews, laughing too loudly at Kermit. But there was more… he panicked a few times when the volume of the previews frightened him. Autism makes his sensory system fragile. Max would have been ok but the audience was not – they jeered us out of the theater before the feature even began. We never saw the movie, but thousands saw the blog post I wrote after our experience.
Everyone weighed in. Suddenly it felt as if the whole world was sitting in that theater with us. Some threw their arms around us. Others were horrified at the cruel potential of the human heart. Many shared similar experiences. But then there were the others…the people who were outraged that I would bring Max to a movie theater if I knew he might disrupt. I didn’t read all the ugly comments – I learned a few things living through Watergate. I prayed for God to give me wisdom, to give me grace, and like the Cowardly Lion…c-c-courage. I resolved to not let this movie theater experience change the way we live.
But it did.
It was almost three weeks before I summoned the courage to take Max out again. As we sat in our favorite restaurant I studied the waitress – she was new. I sized up the group of teenage girls sitting across from us. I watched the people around us just to see if they were watching us. I felt debilitatingly self-aware, like Junior High only with better skin. I don’t know what was going through Max’s mind, but he appeared more confident than me, so happy to be out on an adventure again. He guzzled down his lemonade and ate his French fries as if he were sending branches through a tree chipper.
And then, just for the sake of evening atmosphere, the restaurant dimmed the lights. And then…turned up the music. Max cringed, dropped his food, and grabbed for his ears. He pressed his hands against the sides of his head and looked at me desperately. I reached across the table for him, fearful that he would cry out, afraid of a movie theater rerun. “Make it quieter, make it quieter,” he whispered to me. I cupped my hands around his sweet baby face, and told him it would be ok. My eyes darted around the room – why did we risk coming out again? I wanted to put up a little force field so that no one would notice us.
But someone did.
She was all the way on the other side of the restaurant, and she was watching Max. And then I saw her nearly sprint toward the hostess desk. This does not sit well when I am dealing with paranoia. I took a deep breath as she made eye contact with me and mouthed some words into the air.
I squinted my eyes to see that it was our waitress. What could she possibly be saying to me? As I caught each word that floated across the restaurant it look as if she where saying, “I – can – turn – it – down.” My eyes widened. And then she reached up to a black box on the wall and the music grew softer again.
Max sat back up and his arms dropped to his sides. All of his muscles loosened. His entire body smiled. I never expect someone to accommodate for our needs; we do our best to fit into the often-treacherous terrain of this world. We aim for our version of success, and always keep plan B, and C, in our back pocket. And every now and then, a kind, strong stranger steps in and throws a few rocks off our path.
I tried to get the attention of our waitress again, but she was already off to another table. When she finally came over, I thanked her profusely. At another time I might have missed such kindness. But when you’ve seen how dark the world can be, the tiniest act of selfless grace can bring true healing to the soul. And remind us that every life has the power to affect another.
“No problem,” she said shyly. I watched her face closely, curiously. I wondered about her own story of hurts and bumps and bruises. Of rocks in her path.
“You are very thoughtful,” I said looking up at her and patting Max’s forearm as if speaking for him too. “And you’re very kind,” I affirmed in a very Mr. Rogers sort of way. I tried my best to press a little more goodness into the hard rocky soil of this world, to give words that might blossom in the heart. I waited for her to respond, wondering if she might need a little healing too. But she just looked down at her notepad and let her thin brown hair fall around her face.
“Can I get you anything else?” she asked. And though she tried to hide it, I know I saw her smile.