Meeting Shirley

November 1, 2000

About a week ago Joe and I stopped with the girls at Wendy's for lunch. He stood in line with Darrah as Tarenne and I went to find a seat in the crowded restaurant. As I made my way through the tables I noticed a lady who worked there was looking at me and chatting away. Actually I wasn't sure at first if it was a man or a woman, she reminded me of "Pat" on Saturday Night Live. I also wasn't sure if she was talking to me, but I quickly became uncomfortable. She came over and started asking questions about Tarenne and telling me all about her nieces. I realized that she was mentally disabled and my comfort level remained uneasy. I quickly started thinking about Tarenne and how most people were inevitably going to react this way to her as she becomes an adult. I checked my emotions and made myself become open to having a conversation with this interesting lady. She told me about how she couldn't go home for Easter, although her family had invited her, (she repeated this part 4 times, it was obviously very important to her), because she had had a cold. She didn't want to be blamed for getting the kids sick. She told me the names of her family members and would pause after each one to be sure I understood her and I think to make sure I was really listening.

About this time Joe came over with Darrah and the food. As he walked towards us he had a big grin on his face. He calls me the storyteller and constantly gives me a hard time for talking to strangers. What does he expect moving me all over the country? By this time I knew my companions name was Shirley. Shirley loudly said to Joe before he reached us, "You sure have a nice personality!". He laughed and said "You do too". Well that's all she needed. She stayed around our table while we ate. She explained to us that the world is in too big of a hurry, that a lot of people don't like to talk to her. That people are just too busy. She told us things that made us laugh, and she laughed with us. Darrah kept saying "she's funny". The whole time she engaged us in conversation, she never stopped working. She was cleaning that restaurant like it was her own home. We found out that in October Shirley will have worked at that Wendy's for 10 years.

As we left some men came in that were obviously regulars. They knew Shirley by name and she knew theirs. She immediately went to them and made them laugh just as she had us. She brightened our day.

Before Tarenne I probably wouldn't have given Shirley my time. I would have politely answered and then quickly looked the other way, preferring to eat my lunch in silence, even if dining alone. But because we have had to think about our baby's future so deeply, Joe and I have been changed. We have a whole new world of wonders open to us, with people who see the world differently than we do. Possibly even better. Our boundaries have been stretched. The values we hold as important for human lives have shifted. And thanks to people like Shirley, maybe before Tarenne becomes an adult we will have already gotten it right.

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