Tonight, Matt and I volunteered at a dance for the “developmentally disabled.” We served snacks and danced with perfect strangers, kids and adults, all with varying degrees of disabilities. I started to realize that I felt a bit shy, hesitant to approach people I didn’t know and start dancing… but they weren’t. If I stood and smiled they came over and joked and laughed and danced and told me stories about their hobbies. They may have been disabled but they weren’t lacking any of the qualities that matter. They were big on kindness, joy and love. Watching how much excitement they felt dancing to oldies, some of them from their wheelchairs, I was reminded again about how good we have it. Happiness is a measure of attitude, not circumstance and I am reminded of that every time I do charity work.
There was a beautiful, wheel-chair bound woman named Perlita (“little angel”) who could not speak or control her movements very well; but when a song came on that moved her, man did she know how to smile. Her smile lit up the room while she bobbed and waved her arms. Sometimes she would reach out for Matt’s hand or for mine and we would bend down, dance with her and be infected by her beauty, bravery and contagious energy. Perlita’s husband sat by her side all night, smiling watching her have fun and giving her sips of Fanta through a straw. Real love perseveres.
There was a sweet man named William who asked me to dance and kissed my hand. He was in his 30’s but his parents, who were not disabled but rather elderly, had accompanied him to the dance and hung out with him. Halfway through, his father told me that William doesn’t have any friends and asked if Matt and I would be willing to be friends with them and go for a “soda pop.” Of course, I said “sure!” and then he asked how much I would charge them to spend some time with him… charge them? Hanging out with people like William is not a service or even a favor, but rather a privilege. Unfortunately, sometimes society measures a persons “worth” by the job they have, or the college they get into and these “challenged” people may never be doctors or lawyers but I can tell you that they were some of the most honest and genuine people I have ever met… and to me, that’s priceless. I think society has it backwards. These are the people we should admire… the people who struggle every day and still have a zest and enthusiasm for life; The people that throw on a blue velvet tuxedo jacket to take their girlfriend on a date (like one of the sweet autistic couples we met); The people who are so passionate about their DVD collection that they are bursting to talk about it; the people, like David, who invite you to their birthday party within the first 5 minutes of meeting you because they want everyone to have fun and be included, the people who can walk up to perfect strangers and do impersonations of Yoda and make us laugh, and the people like Perlita- who aren’t afraid to reach for a stranger’s hand and change the whole world with a big smile.