You can't imagine the Facebook dialogue that followed. . . The mother in question is a native Spanish speaker and the conversation continued, passionately, in both Spanish and English. I had to use Google translate to keep up.
I couldn't help myself. I had to comment. So I added my two cents: "[Friend] this woman was advocating for your son, just as you do every day. People like this are your friends, not enemies. She is passionate about his welfare just like you. Does that make sense?" To which she responded "Not really! Why would she come to me and say that? I don't think she is my enemy or hate her, I just think she needed to mind her own business!"
"I don't think she is my enemy or hate her" - but she certainly didn't think the woman was her friend either. My heart breaks for the people in this little vignette. My friend carries a heavy burden with this child. He is deeply locked away within the confines of his condition. The other woman must also have a story, an experience that makes her protective even of children she doesn't know. She was so brave to speak up for the child; I'm sure she second-guessed that decision many times after it happened.
This is a classic love-your-neighbor moment. Sometimes we know what our neighbor needs because we've walked the same path. Sometimes we recognize the feelings and think we know what is needed. Often, like the woman in the parking lot and yours-truly on the Facebook wall, we don't recognize the feelings or know what is needed; we only know that there is a need.
How differently this incident might have played out had the neighbor-lover simply said "Do you need any help?" or "Can I help you?" My friend might still have told her to mind her own business, but she wouldn't have felt her motherhood attacked. My friend might have burst into tears; I don't know. I think it's a safe bet that had the neighbor-lover asked this question, she would have left knowing that the child was autistic and the mother was stretched to the breaking point. She might have even been able to help. Instead, two good women parted, both feeling savaged by the encounter.
How differently the Facebook conversation might have gone had I understood that my neighbor needed to be reassured of her skill as a mother instead of thinking I needed to help her understand the other woman. My neighbor blessed me by continuing the conversation until we understood one another. On Sundays, people of my tradition confess that "we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves." Building on the lesson learned in this encounter, I want to try to be a better neighbor-lover. I want to ask more questions, and truly listen for the answers. What's going on with you, my friend, my neighbor? And what's going on with you, my child?