“Be Kind, We’re All In This Together” is a motto of the Seriously Not Boring page because I don’t think we should ever underestimate the power of compassion and community. As a neurodivergent person and the mother of an autistic child I know firsthand the importance of support and accommodation from allies. The world can be an overwhelming place for anyone, so when we find people who are willing to reach out a hand and walk alongside us during the unexpected twists of our journey it is a welcome gift. I recently met one such individual, Michelle, the awesome lady in this picture who went out of her way to help me and my son. She made such an impression that I thought you should meet her.
Before I tell you the story let me be clear that I am not talking about standard courtesy and respect. I never applaud people for treating my son with basic human dignity or even for showing him kindness. He, and everyone else, deserves no less than that. No one should be made to feel like they are a hero somehow simply for being friends with or kind to a person with a disability. What I am talking about are those times we see an intentional, extravagantly helpful, go-out-of-your way act of support.
So, back to our story. My son has limited food options due the sensory issues related to autism. Change can also be overwhelming for him. For years he has relied on a specific store brand of nutritional supplement drinks to help meet his dietary needs. Occasionally I can’t find the item on the shelf and end up at customer service in search of this highly-needed, highly-preferred staple of my son’s diet. Michelle and others have helped me with that in the past. In general every time I have seen Michelle at the front counter she is hardworking and patient, even when faced with challenging customers or complicated requests.
Two weeks ago when I walked into the warehouse store because we were almost out of the shakes at home. Imagine my concern when the boxes were not only missing from the shelf, but their designated slot had been reassigned as well. I rushed to the front and asked Michelle if she could assist me because she had been so helpful in the past. I knew she was familiar with the product. Little did I know that she was already supposed to be off the clock and was about to leave when I walked up. Michelle took one look at me, paused for only a second, and then went to work her magic. Friendly and patient as always, she took the time to look up everything she could to find out more about the missing product. She then radioed for the person in charge of ordering and stocking, waited for them to come talk with us, and also called the supplier. They all confirmed my worst fears. The item was not just out of stock, it was, *gasp*, DISCONTINUED. <DUNdaDUNNNN>
This news made me a bit emotional, I’m going to be honest. There I was, standing at the customer service desk with tears in my eyes and panic in my heart, hoping someone could help us. A parent of a child with preferred foods or an adult similarly affected might understand my feelings. Sensory aversions and anxiety can have a powerful influence on someone’s food intake. When we find something that works we stick with it. Unfortunately sometimes the packaging or ingredients change, and that’s bad enough. When a staple of an already limited diet is completely removed it can be a real crisis (no, they will not eat “anything” if they are hungry enough thankyouverymuch). If we find out one of those crucial food items has been discontinued we will hunt down and hoard as much as we can before it completely disappears off the shelves, like frenzied Doomsday Preppers before the Y2K bug hit.
Cue Michelle still helping me with my quest. She continued searching on the computer to see if the store’s main website or any other locations had any left. Don’t forget, at this point she was supposed to have already gone home. I just didn’t know that at the time. She remained cheerful and patient even at the end of a long day.
What you see in the picture next to Michelle is one of the last two cases left in the entire state of Virginia of the coveted nutritional shakes. Just enough to help my son have time to transition off of them and get used to the idea of switching brands. Michelle located them in the computer system and then called the other store to verify that they still had the cases. The kind lady who answered the phone at the other location, a lady whose name I wish I remembered, listened to our story and agreed to hold them for us. She explained that they are not typically allowed to do that, but she understood the significance of our situation because she had a “special place in her heart for autism” and was happy to help. If I could have kissed her over the phone I would have.
When a member of my family went by the other store the next day to pick up the two precious cases they were sitting behind the counter at the front just as promised. There were also signs taped to the boxes, emblazoned with the words:
“DO NOT RETURN TO FLOOR OR SELL. ONLY TWO.”
I was deeply touched by the extra effort of both women. I never EXPECT anyone to go out of their way to help my family beyond the basic accommodations that are the human right of every disabled person. Sometimes I realize it would make our lives a lot easier if we had some additional help or a little wiggle room in the rules, and on those occasions I simply ask if it is possible. I am always prepared that they might say no, so when someone responds with kindness it is honestly a relief. Any time we find someone who accepts us as we are and is willing to offer selfless assistance it is a rare gift. When they go beyond simple kindness and respond with such a radical positivity of support I am overwhelmed with gratitude. These ladies didn’t have to help us, but they did. It was extra work for both of them, yet they didn’t treat it as such. They were gracious and kind and caring. They showed us compassion and community and were uncommonly accommodating. And you should have seen the joy and relief on my son’s face when I walked into the house with those last two cases.
A couple weeks passed, and the next time I went back to the store I saw Michelle. The first thing she asked was, “Did you get them?” She still wanted to make sure my son got what he needed. I was so touched that she remembered and moved again by her helpfulness and patience that I got misty-eyed. As I stood there sharing my feelings and gratitude Michelle teared up, too. I appreciated her, she appreciated me appreciating her, I was crying, she was crying. Then we were hugging. It was this whole thing, and the guy in line behind me looked a bit mystified by it all.
I asked if I could take her picture so you could see for yourself what a beautiful and fiercely awesome human she is. So here we are.
Internets, meet Michelle. I like her a lot.
I know that in the past I have stressed the importance of careful storytelling in these types of situations, lest we elevate the helper at the expense of the one helped. We never want to make a person with a disability an object of pity in someone else’s story. That is not what is happening here. Having a need doesn’t make someone weak, and helping another person doesn’t make someone a savior. This story isn’t really about my son, or about me, or even about disability.
So why am I making such a big deal about nutrition shakes and someone simply doing their job or being kind? Because it’s not just about finding a missing product. This story is so much more than that. Michelle went beyond simply doing her job, and she was gracious and intentional in her support when we needed it. She didn’t do it because she had to or to receive praise, she put in the extra effort because she wanted to. It was an inconvenience to her and yet she still did what she could to help us because she saw that we needed something and she wanted to help.
Sometimes I get discouraged when I see all the ugliness, cruelty and selfishness in the world. I feel shocked and saddened and outraged by the way people treat each other. Then I come across someone like Michelle and my faith in humanity is restored.
The world needs more people like this.
What would happen if more of us were intentional in the way we treat one another?
What if, even just once a day, we put the needs of others before our own? What if we sought someone out and asked them what they needed and then worked to meet those needs?
What if we were willing to accommodate the basic needs of people with disabilities without treating them like they are an inconvenience? What if we were willing to go above and beyond to make sure they felt accepted and supported?
What if we all went out of our way to do something nice to help someone else? Not out of pity, or in search of praise, but for no other reason than we can do it and it would brighten their day?
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