My daughter Haley is 24, and she is multiply handicapped. She cannot walk or talk or use her hands, so we help her with everything, and she uses a wheelchair to get around. She is usually very social, affectionate and happy. She also has some not-so-great moments, especially when she is tired or hungry or not feeling well.
For a couple of years, she had many of those rough moments. She would scream. Not little baby screams, but big girl screams, wordless and filled with frustration and pain. We did not go out in public much during this period, and when we did we always had an emergency escape plan.
But we had to get an official photo ID for Haley, and that meant I had to take her to the Department of Motor Vehicles. I put it off for months, dreading an outburst in the DMV office. Finally, I picked what I hoped was a good day and off we went.
About five minutes in, it suddenly became clear I had not picked a good day. Haley started screaming, and she would not stop. We were at the DMV location in the Eastern Hills Mall. It’s a small place. It’s usually not very busy – that’s why I picked it! – but now I learned that when it is busy, you are very close to a lot of people.
I thought about giving up and heading home to try another day, but I knew it would be hard to find the courage to come back again. So I stuck it out. It seemed to go on for days, but I am sure it was less than an hour.
Near the end, the clerk pulled out a camera to take Haley’s picture, and she broke out in a big smile. The storm had passed.
As we headed out to the parking lot, I think we were both drained and shaken. I noticed a young woman hovering near us while I was helping Haley into our van. I assumed she had witnessed the spectacle inside. As I got in and closed the door, she walked over to the car, so I rolled down the window.
She seemed to struggle to find the right words, and finally she said, “Your daughter is very beautiful.”
Now, Haley has a very pretty smile, but she had not brought it to the DMV office that day. But I knew what the young woman really meant. She was giving me a little gift of compassion and support. And her apparent discomfort made it all the more special – this was difficult for her. It was important to her.
I thanked her as best I could and we went our separate ways.
That day in the DMV office, and that moment in the parking lot, have really stayed with me. My wife wasn’t with us but I told her the whole story, and we have had many a good laugh about the scene inside. We were both really touched by the young woman’s gentle gift.
I have learned two lessons from this.
So many times I have seen someone hurting, in need of some kindness or help, and I just wasn’t sure of the right thing to say or do. Now I know that it doesn’t matter what I say or do, and it doesn’t matter if I am clumsy or nervous. The attempt, and the intent to help, is all that really matters.
And I have learned that during difficult moments, a little compassion goes a long way. It gets magnified or amplified somehow and can have an impact far beyond what you might expect.
Lee Allen, who lives on Grand Island, is grateful for a stranger’s kind words.