Special needs we all share

I was late to church. So I sat in the back row.

My seat on the very end of the last row gave me the great and pleasant distraction of a wide view. It also put me adjacent to, and several rows behind, a family with a young adult daughter who is severely disabled.

Her wheelchair was in the aisle. Her father was next to her and they were doing the dance—the one that parents of special needs children often do. She’d bob her head and her father would lean forward and whisper in her ear. She’d turn her face toward him, he’d lift a small towel and dab at her mouth.

The bob, the lean, the turn and the touch. One, two, three. One, two, three.

They are movements unconsciously synchronized through unspoken needs, knowing and time.

The father and the girl danced a bit and then the girl’s mother cut in. She whispered to her husband and they changed places. The mother was next to her now. The young woman in the wheelchair lifted her arm overhead. It looked like an involuntary reflex, but her mother knew its true meaning. The mother reached over and smoothed hair that had strayed from her daughter’s ponytail. The young woman raised her arm again, the mother smoothed the hair again, a second time and a third.

One, two, three. One, two three.

Contemplating how much that young woman is dependent on others, it dawned on me that while most of us can walk, talk and smooth our own hair, we are probably more like her than we are different.

We all share the same need for someone to sit beside us, to whisper in our ear, to make sense of what is happening, to help unravel events as they unfold.

We all share the same need for kindness, tenderness and a gentle touch. Not only from those we are closest to, but even from those who are strangers, the ones who help clear a path and open a door.

We all share the need for someone to help clean up after us, big messes, small messes, the tangible and the abstract.

We all share the need for someone to engage with, someone to crack us open and pull us out, to discover what we have to offer.

Maybe it is the similarities, not the differences, which often prompt us to turn aside from those afflicted and dependent. Instead of locking eyes, smiling and saying hello, we look away — not because it’s hard to look at them, but because deep down we know what we are really looking at is a partial reflection of ourselves.

Could it be those whose needs are displayed on the outside, remind the rest of us of the needs we cloak on the inside?

We all share similar needs; some of us just wear them inside out.