Missy’s finger unerringly found Feb. 27 on the calendar. Then her hand went to her collar, tugging it up and out at an angle – her signal for getting dressed up.
“I want to go,” she said firmly.
This one didn’t require an expert in Missy Charades to figure out. Once again, we would be off to the prom.
The prom, in this case, is the “Shine” dance for the disabled, currently held every other year at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette. It’s a huge night in every sense, inviting hundreds of people to don their best clothes and then eat, play games and – of course – dance until the floor wears out.
For Missy, this is an experience just short of heaven. After all, it combines some of her favorite things in the world. It’s peoplewatching on a massive scale. It’s dressing up for your friends (and especially, in the case of Missy the Flirt, for the guys who can be greeted with a shy smile and a “Hi …”) It’s music cranked up past 11 and freedom to move with all the energy and enthusiasm you can muster.
And this year, it’s something else as well. By some odd coincidence of the calendar, Shine falls on my birthday this year.
That couldn’t be more appropriate. Because being with Missy these last four years and seeing the world through her eyes has been a gift beyond compare, for both me and my wife Heather.
Better still – to see how many people can truly see her. That’s not always a given for the developmentally disabled.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: We have a gift of invisibility that would put J.R.R. Tolkien’s magic ring to shame. But it’s almost never used on ourselves. Instead, we grant the “gift” to anyone whose presence is too uncomfortable for us to bear.
That could be the disabled. It could be the homeless. It could be anyone we don’t know how to approach – or that we fear might approach us, as though misfortune were somehow contagious.
Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe it’s too strong a reminder that all our gifts are temporary, from the money in our banks to the thoughts in our heads. That at any moment, something could happen that resets our entire existence.
It’s a scary thought to look in the face. No one could deny that. But when it keeps us from looking others in the face as well, it’s gone too far.
Those others look back. They know. And they understand more than you would ever guess.
Certainly Missy does.
And thankfully, blessedly, she’s been lucky enough to be surrounded by people that understand her. Friends and relatives and neighbors who know the balance needed, how to make accommodations without treating her like a pet or a doll. Because of that, she has a life – and a social calendar! – that still makes me blink.
Bowling. Softball. Swimming. Trips downtown. Always among friends, always with someone who gets a look of recognition and a brilliant smile in return.
I count myself lucky to get a lot of those looks. And to truly see the spirited, mischievous person behind those dancing green eyes.
And when that means escorting her on her big night – well, strike up the band and never mind the crowds.
Our partner’s ready.
It’s time to dance.