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I think every experience, every person we meet, has the power to teach us something and leave us a more compassionate person. I think that’s how it’s supposed to work. It seems to get gummed up in some people’s lives and their experiences turn to sarcasm and cynicism, but that’s a choice and it doesn’t have to be that way.

I have started pocketing these compassion-inducing experiences faster and faster over the years and I like to take the time every once in awhile to figuratively pull them out of my pocket and look at them like a stone collector.

By far the biggest one I like to examine is my Nathan and the experiences that come with being his mom. He is a fascinating, multi-faceted gem of a person and I can say with all seriousness that I am blessed to know him. Loving him has battered and softened my heart in the best ways.

In particular, I’ve been spending time ruminating over what knowing him has taught me about the voiceless in our society. By voiceless I mean people who both literally don’t have a voice or those who’ve been marginalized and overlooked until their voice is so weak it can’t really be heard – the mentally ill, the elderly, the disabled. My Nathan cannot say much. Yes, his expressive vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds, but by that I mean he can kind of say all his sounds and a handful more words. Communicating with him and helping him unlock his voice continues to be incredibly difficult. It is easy, I know because I’ve done it, to ignore his opinions because he cannot express them. It’s easy to assume he doesn’t care because he cannot tell me, to assume he doesn’t know because he cannot tell me, to assume he’s OK because he cannot tell me otherwise. It’s easy to do and it’s wrong.

My little Nathan has as much or more running through his brain as any other “Why?” asking, movie-plot replaying, obnoxiously-long-story-telling three year old. and if you’ve had one you know that’s A LOT. Three year olds are full of everything to exploding. In a group of toddlers he may be the awkward, overlooked one, but I know that his intelligence surpasses everyone in the room most of the time. Seriously, he’s a genius.

And when I extrapolate the lessons I’m learning loving my Nathan to the wider world – oh my goodness it opens my eyes. Who is it I’ve been assuming didn’t care because they can’t say anything? Who am I ignoring because they don’t speak up? What wonderful, mesmerizing, gorgeous brains are hidden behind those lips that cannot express verbally?

It makes me want to look everyone in the eye and really see them. To give them space to express in the way that they can. To give them time to get the words out and to do all the work necessary on my end to make communication with them a possibility. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt.

How have your experiences led you to have compassion in new and lovely ways? I really want to know.