Two days after our nation was devastated by the 9/11 attacks, I was still on edge, distraught and trying to cope with all that had happened. My son, Alex, who has autism, was 4. September 11th was a day he wouldn’t come to understand for some time.
We headed to the bank for our usual errand. Alex, like most children, can’t get enough of those ropes that guides us through the waiting line. That morning, I came in to find quite a line. I’d have chosen the drive-thru, but it was packed and I figured at least the line might move faster with so many open windows. The group that day was quiet — most people lost in their thoughts of what was going on in the world and on the news. My son, quick as a puppy on the loose, took off under one of those ropes and headed for the back office area where one could conduct loan business apart from the teller area. Before I could even excuse myself from the line, he turned off all the lights in the bank. There was a large wall plate with six or so switches, and he just swooshed them all off.
The bank plunged into darkness, and I demanded he come back to my side. A quick-thinking teller turned on the switches and marched my son over to me, lamenting that children have done that so many times. I could feel the stares. Some people mumbled quietly, making side glances and “tsk-tsking” the mother who couldn’t control her child.
Suddenly, an older woman behind me gently put her hand on my shoulder and spoke quietly to me.
“I don’t mean to bother you,” she said, “but I wanted you to know that I understand. Many years ago, I had a little boy like you have now. He’s grown now, but I went through so many times like you’re going through right now. I just wanted you to know it’s OK. Things will get better. They might get worse before they get better, but just give it time and keep doing what you’re doing.”
Then, just like that, she pulled her hand away. Hot tears fell down my cheeks, as I stood, grateful for the sunglasses I still wore. My son calmed down after a stern talking to, and the line moved. I cried when I got to the car, the relief of getting out of there and the kindness of that woman washing over me.
I never saw her again, but I never forgot what she said to me that day. It did get worse before it got better, but I wish I knew who she was. I’d like to tell her myself.
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