No sooner had I finished leading a breakout session on writing, part of the 2011 Our Lives Disability Conference at the Camino Real Hotel in El Paso, that a small crowd of well-wishers gathered to ask brief questions.
Me? I was feeling pretty relieved. After all, I hadn’t bombed and people seemed interested in what I had to say. The 45-minute session was designed to give people a little help in telling their stories. We all have one, you know.
The crowd began to disperse except for a woman in blue. She had waited patiently for the others to leave before finally approaching me.
“Mr. Cortez, I’m interested in writing a book,” she began. “But I don’t want it to be published.”
“What do you want to write about?” I asked.
“Well, you see, it’s about my adopted son…”
She settled into a chair next to me and began to tell me about a time, roughly 10 years ago, when she owned a daycare. One day, as she watched over the children in her care, a young mother told the woman in blue that she could no longer care for her 16-month-old son.
“She left that baby boy in my care and never returned to pick him up.”
Now, I know a good story when I hear one. Intrigued, I began to ask her questions of my own. How could a mother do that? Were there any other family members? Her story elicited a mix of emotions in me, including anger yet also admiration for this woman who had been raising this child, an autistic child, for the last 10 years.
Rather than responding to my questions – the answers would be mute at this point, anyway – the woman in blue simply reiterated that she wanted to write a book. And then she took a deep breath.
“I will not be around forever,” she said, her voice soft yet steady and firm. “He’s getting to the point where he is asking me a lot of questions about where he came from.”
“I want to be able to give him a book and share our story with him so that he can always have it and never forget it, even after I have gone.”
Twenty minutes prior to our conversation, the woman in blue was seated in the fourth row to my right behind someone in a wheelchair, a face in the crowd. But faces in any crowd come from somewhere – and we all have a story to tell.
In fact, looking around the ballroom during the conference lunch break, I saw a sea of stories:
There were those who were wheelchair bound, blind, deaf and autistic. There were siblings and parents and other caregivers. There were professors, members of the business community, elected officials and healthcare workers.
There was a sense of overall happiness, true happiness, in the room. And for a guy who was asked to do a little teaching that morning, it was really me that did the learning.
I’m going to help the woman in blue because she helped give me a bit of perspective that maybe we all need to have once in a while. Call it a karmic kick in the groin. But it reminds me of a quote by Denis Waitely:
I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street I met a man who had no feet.