My friend Elaine just moved into a new apartment. While we were visiting, she mentioned that her landlord had dropped by to make a repair.
Sam (not his real name) was in his late 60’s to early 70’s. He stood in Elaine’s open-concept space, taking it all in. Then his eyes rested on the bar Elaine had created to divide the kitchen from the living room, defining separate spaces according to their function.
As he stood beside Elaine looking at the bar, a baffled look came over his face.
“Where do you eat?”
Sam was completely bamboozled by the absence of a kitchen table and chairs.
It was only in that moment that Elaine realized it was odd or unusual not to have a kitchen table.
Several thoughts popped into Elaine’s head all at once (Elaine is of the ADHD / Fast Mind persuasion) when she heard Sam ask, “But where do you eat?”
Instead of saying, “It doesn’t matter where I eat,” or, “anywhere,” both of which are true for her, Elaine reflected quietly. “I eat in front of the tv,” she said. “I don’t mind that. I can eat anywhere.”
What sort of a strange new world had Sam stumbled into?
Welcome to Elaine’s world, Sam.
My friend Elaine is talented, funny, loyal, creative, and one of the most gentle, kind souls I’ve ever met. When she told me that Sam’s comment triggered some old feelings about not fitting in, I felt sad. We talked about how, like so many of us, she’d felt shamed and criticized as a child for being different. I felt sad that she’d ever had anything but acceptance, support, and encouragement. I feel that way about all ADHD kids who don’t get the support and encouragement they need, and about ADHD adults who carry that legacy forward.
I understood Elaine’s feelings. I knew she realized that Sam wasn’t trying to make her feel uncomfortable, but rather he was genuinely perplexed.
And I couldn’t help but think that there may be more going on for Sam than met the eye.
I began to imagine what it might have been like for him. At 70 years old, living in a small rural town, probably having lived there his entire life, Sam clearly was used to things being done in a certain way. You know: the way everyone does them.
Or do they?
Sam was confronted with something he clearly had never seen before.
Or had he?
Like a novelist getting inside a character, here are a few of the thoughts I fantasized might be going through Sam’s mind.
I shared my musings with Elaine.
You never know, I said. Sam might be thinking,
“How could I have lived so long and never seen this before?”
He might be thinking of that time when he was a little boy and he did something completely unique and creative, something he thought was just great and that gave him a spark of joy and excitement, only to receive a firm klout across the head from dad and told never to do that again. And so he didn’t. From then on, he did it the way he was “supposed” to do it. The way everyone did it. The right way. The only way. The normal way.
He might be thinking of the time his wife wanted to do something wacky in the house and he forbid it.
Maybe he was thinking,
“Wow, if I haven’t seen this before – what else haven’t I seen? Maybe I should go out and see more new stuff.
Is there still time?”
Maybe he was thinking about something he did the same way as everyone else, but secretly wanted to do differently. Secretly thought it was a pretty darn silly way to do things. And maybe – just maybe – he should go right home and stop doing it that way and start doing it his way.
He might have thought about that thing in his own kitchen he always hated, or that thing he always wanted, and it was high time he got rid of it – or got it – either way… why not?
Elaine, I said, He was confused, but maybe you’ve cracked open a whole new world for him.
Maybe by simply being you, he can be a little more himself.
“I never thought of it that way,” she said.
Perhaps by merely inviting people into our homes, we do have a gift to give.
Maybe that’s part of why we’re here.
Or maybe he just thinks you’re weird.
But I don’t think so.