We all smile when LeBron James spontaneously salutes a Special Olympian during a recent Cavs game because we can see how much his show of tenderness means to a young boy.
Sitting next to my friend and her son with intellectual disabilities at a Cleveland Indians baseball game was another day of big smiles for small gestures, this time courtesy of an ordinary stranger.
Matt, a baseball buff, knows all there is to know about major leaguers. From his seat in the ballpark, he revels in play-by-play commentating, spouting batting averages, earned-run averages, and lifetime stats for all the players.
Mom Kris, on the edge of her seat as innings go by, worries that fans around us are becoming annoyed with her son’s exuberance.
Until Matt makes a mistake. He’s wrong about which team the batter at the plate once played for.
The fan in front of him turns around to say, “Gotcha,” correcting and high-fiving him.
The biggest, broadest grin radiates Matt’s face, and he shakes his fists back and forth in front of his eyes, because that’s what Matt does when he is happy (and his whole family does it when they are happy too).
Matt just met a nice guy who shares his love of the game. Mom can rest easy now.
Being nice matters. Special-needs families like mine need bitty kindnesses:
Your patient smile. It calms me to see that you don’t mind walking slowly behind us, as I do my best to escort my daughter down the bleachers quickly, but safely.
Your support. It’s uplifting when you approach us after the school musical production, applauding her effort and accepting her rocking to the beat during the otherwise motionless choir performance and missing every beat in the song and dance number.
Your compliment. It sends her to cloud nine when she hears, “You look pretty today.” Or, “You brighten up my day.”
Your question for her. It acknowledges her and gives her practice expressing herself when you ask, “When is your birthday?” Or, “What kind of dressing do you want on your salad?”
Your question for me. It shows me your interest when you wonder, “What is her disability?” Or, “Does she live at home?” I never mind your asking.
Your playfulness. C’mon, even people with disabilities like to laugh! Go ahead and greet her at the hair salon with, “Hey, Toots, looks like you need some beautifying!” Or, send her home from work at the grocery store adorned with “fresh” stickers.
Simply stepping up to be nice to someone falls into the category of how to be a better person.