My daughter Julia had childhood apraxia until she was about five years old, which made it very difficult for her to form sounds and syllables correctly in order to speak so that she could be understood. She was very intelligent and knew exactly what she wanted to say, but her speech disorder would not allow her to do so. This eventually led to tantrums and crying fits because she would get so frustrated that nobody understood her. She went to speech therapy, a special preschool class, and learned sign language to try to bridge the communication gap, but still, my little brown eyed girl often had tear-filled eyes.
During this same time, one of our dear family friends suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s. She was at the stage where she understood what you were talking about and could answer yes or no questions, but had much difficulty trying to verbally communicate beyond that. One warm summer day, I found myself with some free time with just Julia, so we decided to go pick up our friend and go for a walk around the path in our home town. Our path is just over a mile long, so I figured I could push Julia in the stroller and it wouldn’t take us too long to get around it.
We started off with our friend walking beside me and Julia swinging her chubby little legs from the seat of the stroller. Several minutes later, Julia reached up and grabbed our friend’s hand. I immediately saw her face brighten, and her expression change. The touch of my child’s hand was comfort to her soul. Julia turned and motioned to me that she wanted to get down out of the stroller. She had just turned three years old at the time, and I just knew her little legs would get tired, but I got her out and let her walk.
It took us an hour and a half to walk ¾ of a mile, but the view was spectacular. They were two peas in a pod. They walked hand in hand, but stopped every few steps to admire each pretty rock, to rescue every stray worm off the hot blacktop, to look at their reflections in every puddle, to chase every butterfly, to pick every flower. Neither one could verbally speak very well, but they spoke volumes to one another. They understood each other perfectly. They followed each other’s hand gestures as they pointed to fuzzy caterpillars, chalk drawings, and baby frogs. They watched each other’s sparkling eyes to communicate their delight at finding each new treasure. They saw happiness there. Patience. Contentment.
I’m certain they forgot I was even behind them, but as I watched this unfold in front of me, my heart smiled. Our friend had given my daughter something I couldn’t, understanding. She knew exactly what it was like to have great thoughts and ideas and not be able to express them. Each understood the frustration that the other was feeling when the world didn’t understand. Each gave the other permission to take as long as they needed to get the point across. Each laughed in the same language-pure, innocent, love-filled laughter that I wished I could put in my shirt pocket to pull out on days when I was sad or unsure of myself.
Such great teachers! To do an act as simple as to look into someone’s eyes when they are speaking lets them know that what they are saying is important. To give them time that is just theirs confirms that their thoughts and ideas are worth listening to. To give them time to express it in their own way, even if it feels long and labored, is a gift. In that moment, you see them for who they are and see past the labels the world may have put on them. In that moment, they are themselves. Not a child with a speech impediment. Not an adult with a debilitating disease. Not a teenager who feels misunderstood. Not an elderly person who cannot remember the words they are looking for. Not a frazzled, sleep-deprived parent. Not someone who is battling depression. For that moment, you have given them validation that what they are saying is important enough to exchange a few moments of your life to hear what they have to say. You might be the only person who gave them such an important gift that day.
Friends, may you find God’s blessings all around you this week. May you not be rushed. May you recognize God’s treasures in the form of funny-shaped clouds and colors of the sunset. May you be on both the giving and receiving ends of feeling important to another person. Those are the things that make life worth living. Live it well.