Everyone wants to talk about giving THANKS this time of year, being thankful for this and that. It’s the HOLIDAY SEASON, let’s all pretend the world is better for the next 20 to 30 days than it really is! People are actually awesome!
At the tae kwon do studio, they’re making a thankfulness chain. Every time we go, we’re supposed to write something we’re thankful for on a little strip of paper, and then they’re making a linked paper chain that goes around the wall. Jesse’s really good at it. She can always come up with something she’s thankful about — friends, family, moments of patience, the weather, life. Nick — who is pretty darn happy most of the time — not so much.
“What are you thankful for today, Nick?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does that mean?”
We’ve always worked hard to help Jesse see the brighter side. She was born a sad, self-critical, tortured little thing inside, an old soul who sees all the hurting around her, the misfits and meanness that seem to give so much ugly shape to human relations. She was full of a story recently about a little boy Dan (not really, but I can’t use his real name) at her school who she says is autistic. I don’t know how she would conclude that; but I know from observing him and chatting with his mom that he does have some differences and disabilities. Dan wanted to play with Jesse and some other little girls at recess one day. Jesse was totally fine with it; she includes, and she’s untroubled by differences (she has her own, though they don’t fit well in a DSM niche). Jesse noticed right away that the other girls were “irritated” by Dan’s behaviors; he was crunching the crust of snow all wrong and saying the wrong things. So Jesse reached out even harder to include him and help him be confident joining in whatever make-believe game they were working their way through.
As Jesse told me the story, I sensed that she was pretty disappointed by her friends. There was a time (not so long ago) when this would have really laid waste to Jesse for days, as she struggled to understand why her friends were “bad”, if she was “bad” for playing with them, if she should have called them out, turned them in, done more to stand up for Dan. But she’s turned a corner for now. Even more than disappointment, she felt some small pride in herself, which was a beautiful thing to see. And there was a nice epilogue, which Jesse told me in a way that suggested a punch line, a moral lesson. At the end of the school day, Jesse was walking down the hall with all her stuff when she heard someone call her name from behind. It was Dan, running to catch up with her.
Jesse instinctively knows that this is something to be thankful for, though the reasons why may still be just an inchoate idea in her heart. She connected with a little boy who lives in an alienated place, who doesn’t quite fit in, who gets made fun of and bullied. She’s the same as him, just more high-functioning. I think what filled my heart the most about her story was that she didn’t seem to be patronizing Dan. She was just pleased with herself for bringing another kid a spot of happiness, and she was glad to have a new friend whose smiling face lifts her up a little. Now that’s something I can be thankful for too.