This teen suffers almost constantly from sensory issues and the pain and inconvenience of Tourette's ticks, but more than that, he suffers from exclusion. As I listened to his story, my heart went out to him. Imagine a life where you don't fit in anywhere.
It was easy to feel angry for him, to mourn what he and others like him experience, and to worry just a little that my own son will experience similar rejection even if his differences aren't nearly as severe.
But later that evening, as the stress of smaller children and the fatigue of a long day caught up with him, Chad's Tourette's went live in all its inglorious vulgarity. Most Tourettes is marked by physical ticks or verbal grunts, but Chad is a rare soul whose condition manifests in the sudden and uncontrollable urge to speak obscene words and phrases, from the common 'bad word', to sexual and racial slurs that are generally considered unacceptable by even those who favor colorful language. Suddenly, I found myself more concerned about my own offense and keeping the small children away than I was about Chad's painful experience.
It only took a moment for me to realize that I was just like everyone else.
Not that I shouldn't have been aware of what the kids were hearing, but in the moment, my convenience (how will I explain these words to my child?) mattered more to me than the physical and emotional pain this young man was experiencing. My line might have been drawn farther away from 'normal' than most, but it was still there.
In the middle of it all, one of the Scout leaders, a grandmotherly sort, consoled Chad and helped him when his hand slammed dangerously hard into the concrete floor. She didn't seem to notice the horrible words that spat out of his mouth. She didn't question her commitment to him or his value as a person. She loved him like her own son, offered her full acceptance, and helped him through a difficult time. Wow. Could I ever see into the heart of a person like that? Accept the truly unacceptable?
I was humbled. Inspired. Scared.
And all of that eventually led me to a new and peculiar sense of freedom. I still cringe at the idea of sitting in church or any other public place with a Chad in high stress—I haven't gotten over that hang up, yet—but I find freedom in confronting my shortcoming and recognizing it as an area where I need to grow. I'm more aware of when my own child's behaviors embarrass me, when the truth is that I'm more concerned about what people will think than about his scary or painful experience. I'm actively working to consider whether the boundaries I put between myself and others are healthy, or merely my reaction to their 'unacceptability'. I'm headed toward unconditional love.
P.S. No, of course Chad isn't his real name.