Dear Kindred Spirit,

I saw your son at the grocery store today. It’s not the first time- I’ve seen him there before, working at the checkout. He’s in the lane that makes it possible for him to be a cashier because he can sit while he works. He’s so friendly, always chatting it up with his customers as he swipes and types and bags. A few years he’s been there now, right? He really is something, your son- his smile and the way he brightens days.

I saw him today, standing this time.

I saw the shiny plastic braces that hugged his legs from ankle to knee and studied his labored gait as he greeted his co-workers and friends. I overheard him tell them he was stopping in one last time to “say goodbye”. I guess he’s moving on… and they all, every one of them, responded with strong handshakes, arms around his shoulders, and firm pats for a job well done-actions that spoke the words, “We’re going to miss you!” They were sad to see him go. I saw it in their eyes. He must have changed them, maybe a little. Or maybe a lot.

You should have seen him today, you would have been so proud.

I wonder what it was like for you? Raising a differently abled son 50 years ago, maybe more. Before all the social awareness, IEP’s and “kindness matters” campaigns. I wonder if you held him tight as a baby, praying prayers into his ear as you rocked him, asking Jesus to hold him too. I wonder how hard you must have worked to help him walk and what the doctors must have told you- if they were hopeful and kind or if they told you only of hardship and limitations.

I can see you taking him to his first day of school, swallowing hard as the tears dared to spill, letting go of his little hand, praying again there would be at least one that was kind to him, one that would circle back to make sure he was coming and asked him to play on the playground. Did you think of him often during those days and wonder how it was going? Did you breathe a sigh of relief when he came home smiling and did your heart twist when he came home rejected? Did you hold his cheeks in your hands, pull his chin up when it dropped and speak life into his soul? You must have because I still see that life in his eyes and in his warm smile now.

I can hear confidence in his words- he must have learned that somewhere. Did you tell him he could be whatever he wanted to be when he grew up? Did you tell him not to curse those legs that didn’t work the way he wanted them to? Did you tell him to remember who he was, to not give up or feel sorry for himself and to press on when he felt like he couldn’t? I think you did. And all of that loving endurance must have paid off when he graduated high school, when he got his first job, his first home, his own good life.

I think you were a pioneer, not by choice but by unique necessity. You braved a world scarcely understood long before I’ve had to. Thank you. Thank you for walking it first, taming the path a bit for the rest of us coming behind you. I have a little dark haired beauty who is differently abled too. You’d love her if you met her. We’re still in the holding days and the early years of sending her off… the days where I wonder what it might be like for her when she’s big and I practice the words that she will need to hear in the growing years. You’ve never met me or even known that my little dark haired wonder  exists but you have touched me through your son’s smile and the story that I’ve imagined behind it. You’ve given me a sneak peek of the later chapters, a sweet spoiler alert that moves me onward and tells me the good endings aren’t always the easy ones. They are the ones that have seen overcoming and love-stubborn perseverance.

You should have seen him today, you would have been so proud.