The library in the downtown city was bustling the morning we stopped in to see a science show, and we were early. I sent Connor and Brenna off to play while I browsed some books in the dinosaur section.
I noticed a little boy approach my kids, and he was wearing a t-shirt for a local daycare, matching several of the other children as well as some of the daycare teachers. I heard him ask about Brenna’s skin, and when Connor responded that she has a skin condition, he asked another question. That’s when his teacher called him over and spoke in a low tone. I caught phrases like “don’t need to ask all those questions” from the short conversation. It was the kind of experience that happens quite often – a child questions Brenna’s deep red, peeling skin covered in Aquaphor and then a parent or supervisor steps in.
But this woman then did something that no one else has ever done.
She got up and walked over to me. “I’m sorry he was asking questions about your daughter. I told him that we were all created differently and in different colors. I tell the kids all the time to see how I was made brown and they have lighter or darker skin.”
“No, it’s OK,” I told her, happy for this extended conversation. “A lot of kids ask about it. She was born with a skin disorder and…”
The woman cut me off. “Now, honey, you don’t have to explain anything to me! We all look different!”
Permission not to explain. Acceptance without explanation.
The one thing that stands out from that brief encounter was that we don’t need to know.
We don’t need to know why to appreciate someone’s differences. We don’t need to know to extend ourselves into connection with another.
We don’t need to know about someone’s specific condition, or ability, or accident, or other circumstances to simply realize that we were all created so magnificently by our great God. His masterpiece can be explanation enough for loving each other well as we recognize the light of the Lord within each other.
I always prefer to educate and would much rather receive a thoughtful question than a stare or a judgmental comment mumbled under someone’s breath about “what a terrible sunburn.”
But instances are vividly highlighted in my mind of times when others did not understand, nor did they question. They were simply kind. They seemed to assume the best, instead of the worst – believing that their curiosity about our daughter was not more important than her feelings as a person or our desire to enjoy an experience unquestioned about her appearance.
Yes, knowledge is power, and I have seen firsthand that when someone understands something, they accept it and appreciate it much more quickly and easily.
But we don’t need knowledge to hold open a door for the person behind us. We don’t need knowledge to say hello, smile, and meet the eyes of someone who looks different than we do. We don’t need knowledge to give someone a heartfelt compliment or offer of help. And we don’t need knowledge to teach our child how to be respectful to everyone and consider the feelings of another.
Knowledge can be power, but simple kindness is even more powerful.