Hi. I’m about to overanalyze something to within an inch of its life, because that is my superpower.
A very touching Facebook post from a mother in Florida went viral, being reported in many news outlets – no doubt we will soon be seeing it in The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed and Upworthy at any moment. (BY THE WAY, UPWORTHY, I APPLIED FOR A WRITING JOB WITH YOU OVER A WEEK AGO HAVE YOU NOT SEEN MY APPLICATION???)
Travis Rudolph, who plays football for Florida State University, visited a middle school with his team. He saw a kid (named Bo) eating lunch by himself, went over to him and sat down. Another mom snapped a pic and sent it to Bo’s mom, who then wrote the now viral post.
So many things went right about this entire thing.
- Travis Rudolph – a big shot to many of the kids in that lunchroom, noticed a kid sitting by himself. He took it upon himself to quietly approach the kid.
- Mr. Rudolph asked the kid’s permission if he could join him. Can we take a moment to appreciate that, please? Consider the power dynamic the other middle school kids in that lunchroom (and college football players, for that matter) witnessed. They saw someone big and tough and popular approach someone smaller and alone and – here’s the thing that kills me – not just plop his exalted ass down and own the space like the star college football player that he is – as if he were doing the kid a favor by bathing him in his radiant presence. He respected that smaller, alone kid’s space and psyche enough to say, “Do you mind if I sit here?” Mr. Rudolph was sensitive enough to think – on some level, be it subconscious or not, “Well, jeez, maybe this kid just wants to be alone. I’ll ask before I force interaction.”That is some high-level and ingrained empathy and respect, man. Please take a moment or two to think about how many different situations in which that lesson is invaluable. The lesson that being in a position of power does not entitle someone with less of it to any less respect or kindness. How many situations? In the classroom? On the playground? On a date? In the workplace? In a family? How many?
- Back to the lunchroom. Bo said, “Sure.” Now, I don’t know Bo. I don’t have autism. I don’t know how he felt throughout this interaction. But I do know middle school and middle schoolers, and I do have some unfortunate experience with being picked on and bullied throughout many of my childhood years. When someone bigger and more popular than I was approached, it was rare that I assumed, “Hey! I’ll bet he’s coming over because he thinks I’m cool and wants me to join his club!” No. I, and many other middle-schoolers I know were and are riddled with self-doubt, insecurity and outright fear in situations like this. Hell. I was riddled with self-doubt and fear when I ordered a cheeseburger. Bo, in what for many kids would have been a nerve-wracking scenario, just said, “Sure.” You GO, Bo. You GO.
- Here’s where I talk about the media. Now, I don’t only like to overanalyze things that happen. I also enjoy overanalyzing things that might happen in the future, but haven’t happened yet. So, as I read different headlines and accounts about this sweet story, I wonder, “Okay, who’s going to be upset about this, and for what reason, and how can I help make it better?” Because my psyche is cursed, that is why I do this to myself.Anyhow, my first thought was that some with autism or connected to them might be upset that the fact that the child is autistic is part of the story. That the word “autism” is in some of the headlines. I hear sometimes, “Autism isn’t a disease to be cured…” and “Autism doesn’t make me ‘less than’…” and from others I hear sometimes, “Autism is a disease and we need to find the cause and treatment…” and “Autism comes with challenges that cannot be denied…” and the tragic/ironic/exasperating thing about it is: not one of those statements is really mutually exclusive of the others. I often think of something I heard from Jeanette Walls, a great author, when she came to speak in my hometown:“Truth is liquid. It takes the shape of its container.”
But here is how the media got it right.
Some of the headlines mentioned Bo’s autism. Some didn’t. Some of the stories mentioned it right up front, others didn’t until it got to the part about his mother’s facebook post. And in that beautiful post, Ms. Paske wrote about both the challenges and beauties of the effects of her son’s autism, and how very happy Mr. Rudolph’s kindness made her. So exactly what did the media do right?
Here’s where I overanalyze to death. I may be looking for things that aren’t there, but indulge me, please, as there is so much shit in this world, I’m enjoying this little flower. And the flower is this: it was refreshing to see the media report this story in a way that seemed to really take its cues from the main actors in the story. Most of the headlines I saw, most of the accounts I read added up to what really feels like an accurate reflection of the dynamic and intentions of the people involved. Yeah, there were a few that made Rudolph out to be a savior, and I don’t get the idea the kid needs saving. Yeah, there were a few that made it seem like this kid’s life is BRAND NEW NOW, and I don’t know (just based on his mom’s post) that his life is all that bad and needed fixing. But for the most part, what I see is a mensch being good to a kid for all the right reasons, and a mom being appreciative for all the right reasons, and media reporting it for all the right reasons, in mostly all the right ways.
By the way, Ms. Paske’s tears of happiness moved Mr. Rudolph to tears of his own, and led to an offer which would likely make Bo the envy of any middle-schooler around: