Monday, January 9, 2012

"Hey Boo"

"Hey Boo"
That iconic one-liner from Harper Lee's story-telling triumph "To Kill A Mockingbird" has been rattling around my brain for a few days. The reason being that Jacob and I treated ourselves to watching a documentary on Lee (we like to geek out with documentaries on Netflix and Hulu) the person behind the story of Scout, a Southern smart-allecky tomboy of a girl that has been loved by generations of people around the globe.
The documentary made the point that most of Scout, could be found in Lee and that Atticus was fashioned closely after Lee's father, a respected lawyer in a small town in Alabama, where she grew up.
Most writers, at some point, write autobiographical. It makes sense to write what you know. What you experience you know and perceive to be true. Most writers strive to write truth.

What fascinates me, however, is that simple phrase "hey Boo". Teased out in the documentary, as a real heart-cincher, documents the moment Scout simply embraces the much maligned and demonized Boo Riddley, who happens to be different from everyone else in town and who lives in the scariest house in town.

Scout, no doubt following the lead of her father, Atticus, seems to see no need to adjust her behavior, just because Boo is different. Her openess, her sincerety suffer no hesitation. She wasn't just raised right, she was raised by someone, who himself, suffers no hesitation in embracing any person as long as they haven't done anything to deserve different.

It's made me think a lot about how we behave ourselves around those who are different. Just because I'm the mother of a child, who is different, doesn't make me an authority on how to do it right. I still stumble every time I serve a disabled person in the restaurant I work at. Wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, drool, blank faces, flailing limbs, you name it, it stops all of us dead in our tracks. We know the script to follow when the interaction is between what we consider "normals" but what do you do when there is a "different" thrown by chance? I, myself, try hard to not adjust my voice, speak normal, maybe a bit slower, but not much. Lean in closer if I can and see it be welcomed. Get down to make eye contact. Smile, but not too hard. Be friendly, be open, be patient. All the while appearing completely at ease - it takes an Oscar or two do pull that off. Most often I fall short of what I'd like to see. My "hey Boo" moments are too few, too far in between.
Funny thing too. I believe that we pass that fakeness, that discomfort on to our kids - without delay. I know we like to believe that little kids are color-blind and disability-blind, but I disagree. I have observed children as little as 2 1/2 respond to being around a person who is different and they comment on it and adjust themselves, in an uncanny kid-version of what we adults do.
"That is a funny girl" a little boy I know, commented when a young woman, who has Downs Syndrome and likely several other disabilities, got in the pool with us. He wouldn't let her out of his eyes. He craned his neck to make sure he had a clear view of her. At the same time he made sure he wasn't too close to her.
Another little girl I know, likes to tell me that Gus is "boring" because "he doesn't talk" she gets very short with him and bellows all her commands at him. Mind you these are little people, they will grow up and learn to behave "right" around the "different" ones, but deep inside that sensibility for "otherness" can't be erased. I wonder if they grow up always feeling discomfort around those who don't follow the script we "normals" write.
And then there is Gus. Not only is he different and cares nothing that others find him different and difficult. He embraced those that are different. I take no credit for raising him right - God knows I'm not a great role model in that respect - but he loves the little girl with Downs Syndrome that appears in his Sesame Street movie. She is a clear favorite of his for her wide smile after she finally succeeds in blowing bubbles. Likewise, the young woman at the pool, is no different to him than anyone else splashing around in that body of water. He regularly gets tangled up with her, swims into her way and has even playfully splashed her - eliciting disgruntled grunts and glares from her. He laughs with delight, which confuses her. I don't think he can tell that she is different, or more different than he is - at least in the hyarchy of "normalness"
He seems to have no sense for that and I love that in him.
My hope is that he can be that kid that says "hey Boo" more often than me, more convincingly to those who makes everyone else uncomfortable.
Wouldn't that be wonderful?

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