A little about Alex. He is a friendly soul. He is very social, positive, and enthusiastic for nearly every minute of his day. These are important traits given he lives with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a horribly cruel disease that steadily destroys his muscles, beginning with his legs, advancing to his torso and arms, and ending with his lungs and heart. Sadly, Duchenne often claims young men before the budding age of twenty. As you can imagine, a teenaged life with Duchenne has more than its fair share of challenges, but offers a unique human perspective – one that came shining through during our trip. Here’s what happened.
While zipping around town, Alex befriended (no exaggeration) the following:
- a half dozen hotel front desk clerks,
- a dozen or so guests checking in over the few days (Alex enjoyed hanging out near the front desk to meet and talk with a variety of people),
- a restaurant hostess,
- several waiters at Red Robin (including those not serving our table),
- a table busser,
- several sales staff at a bookstore,
- a zoo ticket salesperson,
- a crossing guard,
- several animal trainers and keepers,
- zoo caretakers,
- countless(!) adults and children walking in the zoo or admiring various exhibits,
- three zoo gift shop employees,
- several mall food court workers,
- a mall cop,
- fellow wheelchair riders (it’s a brotherhood, like passing motorcycle riders),
- a mall kiosk watch salesperson,
- a mall kiosk sunglasses salesperson,
- a dozen or so patrons either eating in the food court or simply strolling in the mall,
- two GameStop employees,
- a movie ticket taker (we saw Jurassic World),
- a Walgreens checkout clerk,
- a golf pro,
- four “refreshments” sales ladies at a golf course,
- several golf snack shop patrons, and
- a handful of golfers waiting to tee-off.
The point is, despite his physical limitations, Alex’s social talent is awe-inspiring, and for good reason. People can be sitting in their closed little world, hoping to avoid all human contact, when along comes Alex. He simply pulls alongside, nods his head ever so slightly, and says “what’s up?” which comes across more as “sup?” Most react with reciprocal smiles and nods of appreciation for his asking. Sometimes, people react as if no one ever had the nerve to approach them before and they are grateful for Alex’s effort and persistence. Some react with an expression of who is this kid? But, then they see his genuine interest and lower their guard.
Alex approaches people no matter their appearance and pays particular attention to anyone who may look sad or lonely. He also enjoys approaching “tough” looking men (the kind generally left alone by many of us for personal fear), mainly because he thinks they’re cool – and he’ll tell them so. With every approach, Alex delivers his introduction with a genuine smile and look of sincerity. Although his question sometimes catches people off-guard or at their worst, whatever mood they may be experiencing instantly changes when they recognize Alex’s genuine interest in their well-being.
Perhaps they respond because Alex is stationary and poses no physical threat. Or perhaps they respond because they feel some form of pity for his situation. Alex doesn’t care why. All he wants is to say hello and chat for a while. If they notice (and many do), they’ll see his fist clenched and curled on his wheelchair armrest waiting for a fist-bump before moving on to the next person he sees.
Here is the amazing part. Look again at the list above, because it’s rather remarkable. Alex received nearly 100% responses and smiles, no matter the person’s mood, look, appearance, race, ethnicity, authority, dress, or language. It was simply beautiful to watch unfold. If someone didn’t immediately reply or understand, he repeated until they did. His approach is a simple wish to say hello and brighten someone’s day. His language is a smile and kindness, which everyone understands. Simply, the kid breaks down barriers and creates instant connection simply by showing respectful interest in a person.
We should all learn from this. Alex proves that no matter the human, we are all the same below whatever exterior we project. He proves we are all the same no matter our ability or disability. He proves that everyone enjoys connection whether they show it or not. Alex proves this through kindness displayed sometimes by the simplest of requests to connect and the subtle hope for a fist bump.