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Last Friday night, after services, I attended a small kiddush. A tall, somewhat socially inept man came to me and asked if I was Jodi. He introduced himself as someone who is active in Jewish social media and said that he was aware of the many community activities and business ventures that I am involved in.
He then asked me who the “person with special needs child” that I often write about is. When I told him it was me and my daughter, he said, “I am so sorry!” I was a little taken aback – thankfully these types of interactions have all but stopped in the almost five years since Caily was born. I explained to him that there was absolutely nothing to be sorry about – Caila is the joy and light of our lives. To which, amazingly, he responded, "It just goes to show, tragedy can happen to anyone.”
I obviously was simply not going to make him understand the situation and decided to just move on. But the irony of the situation was so striking. My four-year old daughter with special needs has more social graces and sensitivity than this awkward, single man in his 50's. It brings me back to my favorite question. "Who has special needs?"
When I think of all the people whose life Caily has touched and inspired. The people who have been given reason for pause and reflection and to reconsider their knee-jerk reaction to special needs children. Her peers in the classroom at Chabad and SAR who have experienced inclusion of children with more challenges than they and learnt lessons of tolerance, patience and the intrinsic value of every person from such a young age. And then I think of the others who refused to meet or assess Caily or consider her application to their school or those who simply assume our lives are doom and gloom since she was born.
How fortunate is he who recognizes a test as an opportunity for growth that Hashem provides, rises to the challenge and becomes better, kinder and wiser through the experience.