Sometimes I am really worried about the young people growing up in today’s impersonal world. Often it seems as if they have little compassion, are involved in things that are questionable, and spend way too much time on video games while not spending enough effort on interpersonal relationships. Tonight, I am pleased to say I am going to have to re-consider those impressions.
This Halloween Andre chose to forego the usual costuming and instead he decided to be the one to hand out candy to all the kids in the neighborhood. I remember years past when Trick-or-Treating was very hard on him. Too much commotion, too much noise and too many scary things. Yet, tonight he wanted to be part of the action; just from the safety of his own front porch.
This evening I heard constant giggling coming through our door from the little kids as they came up to the front porch where Andre was sitting, candy in hand, excited to hand it all out. Andre talked to every child and had a running commentary going with everyone who approached. There wasn’t one person who came to our house that he didn’t talk with and befriend. And then something magical happened.
To understand Andre, you have to understand that he has only been invited to one or two birthday parties in his entire life. While kids at school are mostly kind, he has never had much of an out-of-school relationship with anyone. His rapid speech and his way of relating to others due to his autism has made attracting and maintaining friends difficult for him and so I was amazed by what I saw as I opened the front door by chance.
There on the porch stood five gangly boys all of whom had been in Andre’s class last year. They were the popular kids, the ones THE OTHERS all wanted to be like, especially Andre. I watched as each one of them came up to him saying “Hi Andre” while giving him a teenage boy pound on the back usually reserved for young men on the football team. All seemed glad to see him and each told him that they missed him. But the most profound moment came when one of the boys looked Andre in the eye and said, “School isn’t the same without you. You taught us all so much.”
And then they left.
“Did you see that mom? All my friends were here. I can’t believe it. Wasn’t that great!”
Yes, Andre, it was great and for more reasons than you will ever know. For those boys restored my faith in today’s teens. They are good boys with great hearts and an ability to make everyone feel liked and included. But most of all, I came to finally understand that there are all kinds of friendships, and while Andre’s are certainly different from mine, to him they are every bit as valuable. Even if those friendships occur just for a few minutes at a time on a spooky Halloween night.