Our Lives

Our Lives: Lessons in accepting charity

December 14, 2013 

Diane E. Morris.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

Theo was not thrilled about having to walk from our house to Trader Joe’s. The promise that we would buy a cinnamon coffee cake there was the only thing motivating him.

As we trekked along Cary Parkway, a woman rolled down her car window and asked how close she was to Kildaire Farm Road. Two lights ahead, I told her.

Turns out that woman was heading to Trader Joe’s too, and she walked through the door just ahead of us. Her first stop was the table of baked goods, where she picked up the last cinnamon coffee cake.

Theo searched the table, and finding no other coffee cakes, fixated on the one in the woman’s cart. He can accept when we go to a store and it’s out of what he wants; that’s happened before. But to see that coffee cake, just out of his grasp – “Theo coffee cake!” my 12-year-old said loudly.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to turn his attention from her cart. The woman asked what was wrong. I told her that he walked all the way here for the coffee cake, and that hers was the last one. I began to say that I would talk to a store clerk to find out if they had more, when she gave him the cake.

Theo, who clearly thought he was only getting what was rightfully his anyway, didn’t say thank you until I told him to. I, of course, thanked her immediately and sincerely. She probably didn’t realize it, but she had helped me avoid a potentially ugly blow-up – in a public place, a mile from home, and without a car.

She smiled and continued with her shopping. I hope she took a moment to enjoy that feeling that comes from doing something nice for a stranger.

Few things can give you the warm fuzzies like doing a good deed, even a small one. It’s something Americans don’t often give one another the opportunity to do.

Imagine if Theo hadn’t spoken up, instead leaving the store disappointed, and that woman somehow (maybe reading a drastically different version of this column) discovered how upset he was about not getting that coffee cake. I’d gamble that would have saddened her. I can picture her reading the paper, shaking her head and asking, “Why didn’t they say something?” Plus, she would have missed out on that warm-your-heart good-deed feeling.

Instead, Theo’s lack of pride and self-consciousness and his willingness to accept something given to him out of kindness made everyone’s day better.

This got me thinking. How many times in the past 10 years did someone ask how I was and I said fine, even when I wasn’t? How many times did someone ask if there is anything they could do to help, and I said no? Raising two sons with autism, my husband and I got offers of help often when they were little, but my pride and a belief that it’s poor form to accept such offers usually prevented me from giving an honest answer – that help was much needed and much appreciated.

This year, my understanding of what it means to ask for and receive assistance has transformed. I launched the effort to start a charter middle and high school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and although many amazing people have been involved, the project is essentially my baby. I have, on more than one occasion this year, come right out and asked my friends and family, via Facebook, for money to support Dynamic Community Charter School.

I’ve received donations from parents who hope their children will be able to attend the school, but I’ve also received many from friends who don’t have special-needs kids. I’ve received money from people I met online but never in person. Donations have come in from all over the country. Even high school friends I haven’t seen in 20 years have contributed to the school!

With every donation, I get teary-eyed. Because it’s not just money. It’s a hug. It’s someone saying they care about me and they believe in what I’m doing. And that makes me feel loved and supported and powerful – like I have so much positive energy at my back I can do anything.

This is something I have learned from my sons – to accept the help, and the love with which it is intended, with joy and gratitude, not embarrassment, and as a reminder of all the blessings in my life. It is a beautiful lesson.

Morris: diane.e.morris@gmail.com

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