Archive for November, 2009

Little one’s jaw-dropping question reveals similarities, friendship

November 19, 2009

Different. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the word “different” means: not alike, dissimilar, not the same, distinct, unlike most others, unusual, various. All perfectly benign definitions, wouldn’t you say? I mean a daisy is indeed not the same as a daffodil, and it is definitely distinct from a dahlia.

Who among us would be perturbed should one of our offspring, or a child in our charge, question out loud as to why a daisy is so much shorter than a daffodil? Few, I suspect. Why then do we adults have a tendency to become conversationally impotent, embarrassed and even angry when similar enquiry is made about dissimilar characteristics in human beings?

Strolling along Waikiki Beach with my sons Moses and Malik (who at that time were ages 3 and 1, respectively), a little person with a parrot on his shoulder walked toward us. I immediately began to panic – and it was not because of the parrot. I silently prayed that Moses would not notice the little man, (the parrot would have, of course, been fine, but dear Lord, not the man) and surreptitiously quickened my pace.

Alas, ’twas not to be. Sharp-eyed and precocious Moses clocked the man and promptly bellowed: “Mummy, why is that man so short?” As I struggled for composure and tried to convince myself that nobody else had heard his “whisper,” he barreled on: “Does he talk?”

Had the sands, at that moment, parted and Mother Earth swallowed me whole, leaving my children waifs and strays in unfamiliar and potentially hostile territory, I would have thanked her profusely. Unfortunately, salvation via terra was not to be mine. The atmosphere inhaled, the tide froze in ebb, and a million eyeballs assaulted me, boing-ing maniacally in my peripheral vision. There was nowhere to run to, if I could have managed movement. Trapped and struck dumb, peering down I met Moses’ expectant “curiosity colored in innocence” expression. My mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, I ineffectively sucked at the air. Finally, mercifully, the incognito wise woman within me responded: “I don’t know Moses, why don’t you ask him?” All at once a gentle breeze blew, the tide flowed, and eyeballs retreated to sockets. Or maybe, it was simply that, delivered from fear, I was breathing again.

Moses spoke to the little man, discovering that he did indeed talk, even though he remained short, and for the rest of our holiday they were beach buddies on first-name terms. The man (I must confess, I have forgotten his name, but not the lesson learned) thanked me for seeing the human in him, and ultimately giving my child permission to do the same.

Somewhere along the line in our civilization we have learned that “different” when applied to human beings – whether it be difference in skin color, physical ability, attributes, sexual orientation, gender or stature – can be something not nice, something abnormal, something less than, something not to be discussed (or acknowledged for that matter) in polite conversation, and certainly not with the children.

But different is a fact of life. Different is, as the sky is, as the wind is, simple, natural, nature’s gift, and oh so necessary. Variety, as that trite (but true) expression states, is the spice of life.

A dahlia is different from a daisy. I am different from you, as you are different from Moses, as he is different from that little man in Hawaii. It is nothing to be ashamed of – no need for shrouding in secrecy and silence. Ultimately, you and I, and he, and we, are all, magnificently human.

So, let us each commit to honoring our differences, but celebrating our sameness, our oneness in humanity. And the next time a child in your life lustily expresses their curiosity about a fellow human being, don’t shush, or shame (or wish for the ground to eat you). Dare to dialogue out loud and proud. You will learn something potent and, who knows, you might make a new friend.

This article originally appeared in the November, 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

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