Last week, Sawyer – now age 15 – accompanied me while I did our shopping. Sawyer usually likes to wander the store by himself, ostensibly to look at the latest video game titles, but really to find people to talk to. Once upon a time, we could hardly get Sawyer to talk to anyone. Now it is virtually all he wants to do. He has, however, developed his own direct conversational style.
For instance, our cashier that day was a young man with brightly dyed blond hair. After the cashier asked Sawyer what kinds of movies he liked, Sawyer asked him if he was gay. I shot him a look: Too personal. None of your business. “I’m sorry!” said Sawyer. “I couldn’t help it.”
“That’s fine,” said the cashier. Sawyer went on to ask him if he had been bullied for being gay. The cashier hadn’t. Their conversation returned to movies.
Listening to Sawyer talk to strangers isn’t always easy for me. If he’s nervous, there is no telling how personal his questions might become. I worry that he will cross some line and that somehow I, as his father, must protect not him but the stranger from some embarrassment or awkwardness. Sawyer absolutely hates when I do this, and so I have had to let things roll, though I continue to worry for the strangers, for Sawyer, for myself – for the whole world, I guess.
The cashier, however, couldn’t have been nicer. He was kind and he was patient and he asked Sawyer questions about himself. We bid him goodbye and rolled our groceries into the parking lot. I was still recovering from the knowledge that Sawyer had walked up to a stranger and asked him if he was gay. The more I thought about him asking this question, and how I wished he had asked anything but that, the worse my mood became.
As we unloaded our groceries from the cart, I noticed an old woman with a cane standing beside the car adjacent to ours. She looked nervous. I was still in a bad mood, and I thought, Avoid eye contact. She’s a problem waiting to happen. Sawyer climbed into the passenger seat, and as I opened the driver’s door she said, “Excuse me, Sir. Could I get some advice?”
“Sure,” I said. She explained that her car was locked and she couldn’t find her keys. She was small, and she was frail, and she seemed so frightened and vulnerable, a baby bird tossed from the nest. I tried to help her remember where she might have left her keys. I asked if she would let me look through her purse. As I was digging through her purse, she said, “I think someone followed me.”
“No one followed you,” I told her.
“Okay,” she said.
It was as if I was lifting her back into her nest and could feel her fragile bones against my hands. Talking to her, I had to find a depth of patience and gentleness I do not always seek, not even for Sawyer, not even for myself. After a bit, I spotted her keys beneath the driver’s seat. She touched my arm in relief, and I very gently told her to go back into the store so they could call someone to help her unlock her car.
I climbed in behind the wheel and found I was in a wonderful mood. I glanced over at Sawyer and thought again of our cashier. For all I knew, his conversation with Sawyer was the highlight of his day, as he discovered within himself the patience to talk to a boy eager to find his way in the world. In this way, the kindness of the world reveals itself in humble subtlety, as strangers are brought together to find what they are looking for.
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I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.