vulnerability and the grocery store

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if there is any person out there expecting a child with a disability, i have this little piece of advice for you.  get ready for what i like to call ‘the grocery store brigade.’

i can’t count the number of times i’ve been shopping, deciding between cheddar or muenster cheese and slowly felt the proximity of a stranger way closer than grocery stores necessitate.

“oh.  hello.”

“i see your daughter has down syndrome.”

“yep.”  i nod, smiling.

“i had a sister who died.”

“oh.  i’m so sorry…”

“you have a real blessing in your cart.”

“yes.  well…thanks.”

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people who see a chink in the armor that humanity normally wears draw close when mazzy is around.

so let it be known, you parent-to-be, that strangers will see you and your child and they will want to be close.  they’ll want to be back near people who know that being imperfect and weak and vulnerable isn’t really that strange.

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jean vanier and his organization, larche explain the phenomenon this way…

human imperfection is a gift, and an opportunity. imperfection and weakness can draw people closer together, for instance in solidarity around someone who has been hurt and needs help. vulnerability can move others to give more of themselves, or to open up and reveal their own shortcomings. strength and mastery can be impressive, yet they tend to divide people in competition and the regular disappointment of not measuring up. i am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.

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it was unnerving at first, but i’ve grown to love these moments with the brigade.

i feel it a privilege to hear stories from strangers and that we, because of mazzy, get to walk in the thin spaces of vulnerability that exist in a world that works so hard to hide its imperfections.

and so to you, new parents, i would say, watch for it, because just like that, a trip to the market can become a crack in the facade of the phantom perfect life.

i was near the frozen food aisle when i saw an older woman and her nearly adult son with down syndrome headed my way.  i walked straight towards her and i think we may have hugged before either of us said a word.

“she is going to be such a blessing to you.”

“oh.  thank you.” i said, nodding.

“i mean it.  i’m alone now, i lost my husband six years back and i don’t know what i’d do without him.  he helps me so much, more than i ever imagined.  he’s the best thing that ever happened to us.”

she introduced her son to me and we said goodbye.

and just like that, i grabbed some garlic bread and orange juice, and it was back to life as usual.

6 thoughts on “vulnerability and the grocery store

  1. Your post is an affirmation of why we all need these children (and people with other disabilities and inabilities) in our lives. “Imperfection” reminds us of our humanity and takes us out of ourselves. What a wonderful affirmation by that mother of the adult son.

    The quote by Jean Vanier called to mind the book”Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, which I’ve been reading.

  2. yes!

    brene brown is so good – i meant to quote her in this…she says that when we first meet someone what we look for first is vulnerability and it’s the last things we want to show.

    i love her words, too…her work is important.

    thanks for your thoughts,
    zena

  3. I don’t have this exact kind of experience, but I have discovered the amazing bonds that can grow within a community of people who have similar experiences. There’s something about the people I’ve met in the limb difference community that makes them feel like family in a way that I have never really experienced with another group of people I’m connected to. It’s kind of wonderful.

  4. patti,

    i love the way you are raising your boy – it’s inspiring to watch from afar. i’m not surprised that you have found a great community of friends – your family is pretty awesome.

    ~ zena

  5. Basically hiding in my car right now to get a quiet moment to myself and took a few minutes to read your blog. Nourishing… thank you 🙂 You have such an eloquent way of telling a story. Best to you and Mazzy 🙂

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