The Boy a Few Rows Up

Smile at someone today.

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“I think everyone’s interesting. I really, honestly, seriously believe that, that when people are talking about the things that they know well and do well, they are almost always interesting.

“And if they’re not, it’s generally your fault – because you’re not asking the right questions, or you haven’t made them comfortable, or you haven’t – and not their fault. And once I learned that lesson, my journalism became a lot easier.”
– Malcolm Gladwell

Some weeks when I go to church I find myself sitting a few rows behind a boy and his mother. The boy is in his 20s, maybe his 30s. Some people would say he is mentally handicapped.

As the parishioners file in and find their seats, they’ll often wave to him. Some are genuine, others seem to be out of pity.

Either way he doesn’t seem to mind. He extends his hand, waves, smiles, gives them his full attention, and looks at the other person as if they were the most important thing in the universe.

Week after week, he does this to every single person that so much as smiles in his direction.

So, many would say that he is disabled or handicapped. But never once in their days do they look at another person and give them the attention that they deserve. Most move through their days quickly without a second thought to those who they meet or see. They’re on their cell phone, running from one place to the next, too busy to be bothered by others.

When we do stop and listen to someone else for a moment, though, rarely does it turn out to be a negative experience. Even two strangers passing in the street can make an impact with a smile and a ‘Hello.’

The dictionary says that a ‘handicap’ is “any disadvantage that makes success more difficult.” So while the boy who sits a few rows in front of me may have it difficult, he succeeds every day. You just have to define success correctly, and look someone in the eye.

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