“I guess you don’t know how to get out of the way, do you?” said the woman who we passed in a retail store last summer.

Donald looked at her the way anyone would look at a person after a smart comment like that, except his was a little different.

“Was she talking to me, Leslie?” he said.

I told him that I think she may have been talking to both of us, but we just needed to ignore her. He gave me a sorrowful look and was unusually quiet for the rest of the day. I knew why he was quiet, but the lady who opened her mouth without thinking didn’t know that she had hurt the feelings of a middle-aged gentleman with special needs.

As a child, I remember seeing people with special needs be picked on just because they didn’t look the same or didn’t act the same way that others did. It was hard to watch, and there are days that I regret not stepping in and doing something about it.

Then God allowed Donald Long to become a part of our family. There are days that we will walk in a store or restaurant together, and the whole time I feel as if millions of eyes are locked on us as we go about our business. Sometimes, it pisses me off to be honest. Other times, it makes me so proud because having Donald as a family member has changed our lives forever.

But why are they looking? Shouldn’t they go about their business just like we are? I’ve had to realize that others don’t know the joy that we’ve experienced by taking care of an individual with special needs. They also don’t know the pain that we go through sometimes because of how their smart comments impacts his depression. It’s all a part of the package. But to be completely honest with you, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Part of me thinks that many people are missing out because they choose to not interact with people who have disabilities. They’re missing out on a chance to feel like their life is not about them for once. They’re missing out on a friendship that has the potential to last a lifetime, and they sure are missing out on a lot of happiness. But you can’t force it on them. They’ll come around.

But until they experience that happiness, they will keep staring. They will keep stepping away as soon as they come close to someone with a disability. They will keep making those comments that hurt deeper than they will ever know.

The lady in that retail store that day may not have known that Donald had special needs. Half of the time, I forget. Being around a person with special needs has changed my life. If she would have just taken a moment to have a conversation with Donald, he might have changed her life too.