“Love them for who they are rather than what they should be”.

“A major advantage of age is learning to accept people without passing judgment.” ~ Liz Carpenter

Traveling is stressful, and traveling during the holidays will test your character.  Even though I had allowed myself 90 minutes, I knew I was in trouble when the security line was a mile long and only 1 security checkpoint open.  By 7:20 a.m., I was in a mild panic because my flight was leaving in 20 minutes and I wasn’t close to the checkpoint.

Deciding to be “green”, I didn’t print a paper boarding pass and used my Blackberry instead.  By the time I reached the TSA person, my ID was ready but my Blackberry went into “sleep mode”.  It seemed like an eternity, but the bar code finally showed up and I was able to proceed through screening.  By this time it was 7:30, and I ran to the gate . . . you guessed it, I missed my flight.  I burst into tears because it was Christmas Eve, and I wanted to get home.  The flight assistants assured me that I would get home that day and booked me on a later flight, so I had over 2 hours to wait for the next one.

I went into the ladies restroom and had a nice meltdown.  After 10 or 15 minutes, I decided to pull myself together, repaired my tear-streaked face and reviewed my new boarding passes.  Rather than fly through Houston to Tampa, I was rerouted to Newark, NJ and then to Tampa.  That’s when I discovered that my flight from Newark to Tampa would be in flight before I arrived in Newark.  I was too worn out to cry anymore, so I went back to the gate kiosk.  Of course, the flight assistant remembered me, realized the booking mistake and put me on standby for another flight . . . more waiting and time to reflect . . . and a quiet little “nudge” that told me there was a reason for me missing my flight.  Over the next 45 minutes, I had a very humbling experience and personal lesson which I now share.

While waiting for my flight, a young family sat down next to me in the gate area.  Mom, dad, a 9-year-old girl, her younger brother found seats to my right.  Both sister and brother had similar turquoise and black striped sweaters.  The young girl was wearing a bright turquoise ruffled skirt, black tights with “bling”, black boots and bright pink earrings.  She was intent with her portable gaming device.  Her mom came over and placed eyeglasses on her daughter’s nose.  With virtually no reaction and no “thank you” to her mom, the little girl kept playing.

A few minutes later, Dad left to take a phone call.  The little girl’s brother needed to go to the restroom, so Mom told her daughter that they were going to the restroom.   Because Dad was across the hall, Mom did not want to leave the daughter by herself.  The little girl clearly did not want to go, shook her mom’s arm away and told her loudly that she wanted to stay by herself with her game.  Mom, son and daughter – unwillingly — went to the restroom.

A few minutes later, all three returned.  No matter what her mom said to her, the young girl was rude, terse and wouldn’t even look at her.  Dad finished his phone call and came back across the hall.  He sat next to his daughter and talked to her softly.  I finally heard him say “let’s walk down the hall”, which she clearly didn’t want to do.  Reluctantly, she followed her dad who tried to place his arm around her.  She didn’t want to be touched and walked away from her dad. 

Of course, I was visibly stunned and shocked.  I glanced up and locked eyes with her mom.  Her mom said “I can see the shock on your face.  You probably think my daughter is a brat.  She is autistic and can’t help herself.”  She wiped tears and looked away as she said “she struggles every day . . .”

My first reaction was shame and embarrassment.  And then I realized that this was a new lesson for me on humility, swallowing my pride and consequences of wrongful judgment.  After a few moments, I walked over to apologize for being judgmental.  All she could say was that “most everyone reacts the way I did, and she would have reacted the same had she been in my shoes.”  She confided that even her family doesn’t understand; I could see the pain in her eyes and hear the sadness in her voice.

So I share this story to share a lesson from “Autism Speaks”:  “Love them for who they are rather than what they should be”.   With a new year just hours away, my resolution for 2013 is to get back to my original intent for “Bea Positive” . . . to share life lessons and reasons to be thankful.

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