“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.”
I heard the incoming screams from the far end of the parking lot of the home improvement store. The vehicle swerved crookedly into the lot and abruptly stopped. Someone inside was forcefully hitting the driver for a few frightening moments, and then emerged from the passenger side and fell to the asphalt, continuing to scream.
I drove slowly to the driver’s side of the vehicle, and asked the woman weeping behind the steering wheel if she was okay, and asked how I could help. She told me that she was a new respite caregiver for this young man, and did not know what might be triggering his discomfort. Shaken but unhurt, she was calling his parents and would appreciate me waiting with her.
Another man had by this time stopped and gotten out of his truck to see if he could help. I felt immediate relief at having more back-up.
To my naive surprise, upon seeing a large white man walking quickly toward us, unmistakable fear returned to the face of that shaking young black woman in hijab. She screamed, "No! He has autism! Please do not touch us!" She flinched and lifted her hands to her face against this man’s approach just as instinctively as she had earlier, when her agitated young charge had been striking her.
Thankfully, the man graciously backed away, hands up in a gesture of peace, drove to another part of the lot and parked, keeping watch.
After parents of the man with autism arrived and he willingly got into their car, his caregiver wept and said to me, “I don't know who scared me more,” gesturing to the now-calm young man and then to the other man in the truck still parked across the lot.
Oh, my dear fellow people of privilege. We have more damage to undo than we realize. Even in our efforts to help, we can so easily strike terror in the hearts of our beloveds in the margins. We will not always get it right. But can we strive to have the grace to back away when our presence doesn’t feel like safety?
Spirit of Humility and Grace, help us remember that sometimes, despite doing our best, our intent and our impact do not match. Teach us when to keep watch from a distance just in case, and ultimately to trust that those we have come to help may have been just fine before we showed up.
Photo copyright Todd Page/CC BY-ND 2.0