A few days ago our niece was scheduled to be in a talent show at the high school. Being three people with two cars (wow, there’s another of those first-world problems, right?) I was driving Ann in to work so I could attend the assembly.
The skies were crisp and clean and piercing. As we headed west, the sun was just warming the top third of the Wellsville mountain range.
It was pretty spectacular (almost as much as was the company).
When I arrived at the school, my sister was watching out for me in the auditorium. We sat right up front in the middle of all the students.
As the lights began to dim, I could see that the room was filled to capacity. Without warning, everyone was on their feet and I was thrilled when everyone in the audience stood, loudly and clearly pledging allegiance to the flag.
No one had to be asked, or begged, or shamed into it.
It was obviously just a part of how they did things; part of who they are.
There was moment when I noticed the principal standing in the doorway – but he’s the only adult I ever saw.
The student association directed the program, gave announcements, invited everyone to the party after the ballgame, and told us all what a RAD time it would be.
I was blown away at the talent. For the next hour we listened to singing, rapping, piano and guitar playing and watched dancing, juggling, glow-in-the-dark yo-yos, and an excerpt from the upcoming school musical.
That would have been enough to keep my attention.
But the performance wasn’t the thing that we all needed to watch closely.
It was the natural behavior of the students themselves.
But it wasn’t.
Nor was it rigid and formal.
It was just FUN.
But more than that, it was kind and respectful and inclusive.
No one booed, or heckled, or ridiculed.
And then, last but not least, they announced our niece Sarah.
Sarah is tall and slender with beautiful long blonde hair and carefully manicured, painted fingernails with an intelligence that emanates from her completely innocent spirit.
She is also Autistic.
As she stepped out onto the stage, the crowd cheered joyfully and kept it up while the stage hand helped her with the microphone – there was no uncomfortable silence while they worked out the technical difficulties.
Loud calls of “we love you Sarah” complimented the continuous cheers of support.
There are two points that are burned into my memory:
When Sarah reached up to take the microphone and fix the problem herself, this young man didn’t pull it back from her, scold her for making it more difficult, or even just stand back and leave her to it: he patiently worked his hands through hers and together they got it on the microphone stand.
As he stepped off the stage, with his back to Sarah, the microphone slipped down and was now too low. Immediately one of the students in the audience called out this young man’s name, which was all he needed to turn around, go back, and reset the microphone.
Scared but supported, Sarah listened for the music and never missed a cue, a note, or a syllable. It was hard to not shed tears as this sweet young woman looked at us and sang:
Sometimes I like to be different
And I just want to be me
It doesn’t mean I don’t want to dance with my friends; I just like being myself
I have my very own look, it’s my style
My very own voice, and my smile
It’s my choice to stand up proud and not to follow the crowd
I like to do my own thing, and take a chance
Sing my own song, dance my own dance
I’ve got my own style, as you can see
Sarah curtsied as the audience roared and was quickly on its feet, giving an ovation not only for a beautiful performance, but more importantly pronouncing that she was one of them. We knew they not only had her back, but they would keep her safe so that she could enjoy that all-important high-school experience.
I walked out to the parking lot with my folks and we marveled at what we had just experienced. The skies were still crisp and clean and piercing.
Yep, there is a LOT of bad going on out there.
I pray we never lose sight, however, of just how much good there is right in front of us.
One beautiful, blonde, Autistic girl at a time.