Sometimes the most powerful conversations need only a message, not sound, not words, not speech, just a message.

We went to the mall after work today because I’d been so sedentary all day and wanted some physical movement. We arrived, we parked, we went in. As we moved through the mall the bag on the back of my chair slipped off one handle and was dangling from the other. Neither of us noticed because we were deep in conversation about Christmas. We didn’t even hear when my notepad of paper fell to the floor behind me.

I was lucky because there was nothing on the pad, no notes, no thoughts, it was empty. I could have easily just lost it and never known what happened to it, but it was picked up by a man with an intellectual disability. He broke away from his staff, ran to get the pad and then picked it up and ran again to catch up with us and give me the pad. When he appeared beside me with the pad, I was momentarily confused. I didn’t realize it was my paper and that it had fallen from my bag. He pointed at the back of the chair and instantly both Joe and I knew what happened.

I was thanking him when his staff arrived.

They seemed pretty good because they didn’t jump in between us and begin to explain everything. I understood the story just because of the bag, the pad and his retrieval of it. When I finished saying thank you he made a slight bow in return.

He wasn’t done. He pointed at my chair and then pointed at himself. I asked tentatively, “are you saying that we both have disabilities?” he smiled.

Then he pointed at himself and me, back and forth three or four more times. Then he raised his arm and made like a bodybuilder showing off a bicep. He did that twice, back and forth between him and me and then the bicep.

The staff were fighting to keep silent, and they won the fight.

They knew this was his conversation not theirs.

Knowing what belongs to you and what doesn’t is the most important working skill that direct support professionals need.

I ended the conversation by pointing back and forth with him and then making a muscle.

I wanted to say, “together we are stronger” too.

He smiled, turned to his staff and indicated he wanted to go. They went along with him into the mall itself. I saw the staff a bit later near the food court, now there were two others with them. They must have been somewhere else in the mall and meeting up here.

He saw me, smiled, and made a muscle.

Stronger.

Together.

And we are.

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