After dropping off the kids at school this morning, a dear friend of mine and I decided to do some work over a cup of coffee. We have been trying to do this more often and have fallen in love with this little neighborhood coffee house. The coffee drinks and the food there are good. The atmosphere is cozy and inviting. But, the thing that makes this coffee house so special is the incredible diversity of people.
I love to sit back and watch the interactions as I type away on my laptop and enjoy my steamer. As I look around, there is a very serious businessman in a perfectly pressed suit grabbing a black coffee to go. To my right there is laughter from a group of women gathering to knit and share stories of their grandchildren. A couple comes in, clearly having just finished a strenuous bike ride and looking to take a break. A father and his young daughter are out for some quality time. A group of men, who appear to be pillars of the community, are having a lively debate during their daily coffee shop meeting. Some giggling teenagers sit at a corner table.
Just then a mother and her young daughter walk in. The daughter is carrying a cane and I notice that she is blind. They order and take a seat. Suddenly, I get to witness one of the most amazing exchanges I have seen in a long time. You see, in addition to the vibrancy and diversity of the people who frequent this coffee house, one of the things that draws me to the establishment is their heart for providing meaningful work to people with varying developmental challenges. As this mother and daughter take their seat, a young lady with disabilities of her own takes a break from rolling silverware and boldly speaks to the mother. I want to share a bit of that conversation with you:
“Is she blind.”
“Yes, she is.”
“Why is she blind?”
“She was born that way.”
“Can I say hi to her?”
“Of course,” to her daughter, “sweetie do you want to meet a new friend?”
The daughter nods.
The mother turns back to the young lady, “Now she will want to touch you because that is how she sees, is that ok?”
The young lady agrees and begins talking to the daughter.
“My name is Sara. What’s your name?”
“Hi Lizzy, how old are you?”
“I am 5.”
“Cool, I am 22. Are you in school?”
“Do you have to go to a special school or do you go to a regular school?”
“I go to regular school.”
“Oh, I went to a special school, but I really liked it.”
“You did? What did you do there?”
“I got to play sports. Do you like sports?”
“I really like to swim. We go swimming all the time. I love to go with my mom and dad and brother. Do you swim?”
“Sometimes. I also like to read, how do you read?”
“I have special books with bumpy letters so I can read with my fingers.”
“Cool. I don’t know how to read with my fingers.”
Of course the conversation went on and they covered many topics before it was time for Sara to go back to work and Lizzy to go home with her mother. Honestly, I normally would not listen in to someone else’s conversation as intently as I did to this one, but I couldn’t help it. The true connection, the openness, the lack of fear and inhibition, the honesty and appreciation the girls had for each other just had me captivated. These two girls just wanted to learn about each other. They recognized the differences and saw them as unique and interesting.
This interaction got me thinking about the way we generally approach differences in our culture. So many times I find that we play it safe and don’t open ourselves up or ask questions of others. We recognize the differences, but fail to learn about them or appreciate them. Unfortunately, when we don’t embrace the differences in each other we miss incredible opportunities to learn and grow. Just think how we would be altered if we took a lesson from Sara and Lizzy and approached differences with appreciation, respect and a desire to learn.