I could see the numbers climbing and feel my anxiety pulse like someone was taking my blood pressure. Two hundred and seventy-five developmentally disabled people and their hundred plus caregivers are a lot of folks to be responsible for. What if someone has a seizure on the dance floor or trips the fire alarm? Or far worse–what if someone intent on doing something horrible shows up?
The list of what-if’s is as long as the guest list for Prom. I know I wouldn’t be doing my job well if I didn’t concern myself with it, but I also know I tend to be a worrier. When registration reached the point, it had to be closed I thought the anxious feelings would go away. They didn’t but somehow, I managed to sleep the night before the event.
In the morning I woke up excited. Prom is easily the best thing, outside of my family, that I invest my time in. When folks ask me if I do it for my boys I’ve always had to tell them the boys have no interest until this year. Chase finally decided he’d give it a go. For the kid who never went to a single dance in high school this was a big deal.
At our pre-game volunteer meeting I confessed to the other organizers that I was more nervous than in previous years. They offered me some encouragement and then we braced ourselves for the crush of people headed through the doors. At the disability Prom nobody arrives fashionably late, they get there uncomfortably early. The queue weaves its way through the hotel lobby and out the front doors.
The one perk Chase got out of his mom being an organizer was bypassing the line. I’d checked him in and given him his wristband at home. When he graciously excused himself through the crowd making his way to me I could see how wowed he was.
“Chase you look great,” I said.
“I have something for you.”
Having seen that look before, I reached out my palm and he set a penny in it.
“Where’d you find it?”
“Walking in the door.”
“Thanks bud. I need the reminder right now.”
This penny felt a little different than most. Where 85% of the time a penny says to me all will be well this one said, you’ve been nervous for a reason.
Sure enough that’s when the waves started rolling in with one problem after another. None that the guests saw or made the night any less wonderful for them–but problems nonetheless. Things like prom crashers, rule breakers, and a mind-blowing disregard for any kind of common-sense. Not by our special guests by their caregivers. It begged the question, who’s actually disabled here? You or your client? The sense of entitlement some folks had was staggering. My fellow organizer Jill had to remind me,
“You know lots of folks in this population think that special needs always equate to special treatment.”
“Isn’t the event itself special treatment enough?” I asked.
“Apparently not,” she said with a laugh.
All night long I felt like the enforcer. When one caregiver, who’d been completely irresponsible, called me a few choice names and told me to “eff-off”, using his outside voice, it was all I could do not to cry. Despite how truly magical the night was I came home tired, hungry, and feeling defeated. My sleep was disrupted all night by dreams about the adults who’d behaved poorly.
When my mentor Sally texted me in the morning to congratulate me, I told her some of the things that had happened including getting yelled out. She laughed.
“That means it was a really great event. Listen kid, if you don’t get told to eff-off by someone you’re probably not doing something right. You need to consider that a badge of honor.”
Given my fatigue it was hard for her comment to sink in. Later in the day when I’d had enough food and caffeine to feel more human, I thought about what she said. It brought to mind a small little sign that my first mentor Julie gave me. It said, “Opposition means you’re on the right track.”
It feels counterintuitive to believe, but life has taught me what these ladies have said is true. Any good and noble effort aimed at blessing other people will encounter resistance. You can call that resistance whatever you like and believe it comes from inside or outside but what you can’t do is take it personally. It’s not about you it’s about what you’re trying to do.
With Prom I lost sight of that which was easy to do. When you pour your heart into something it’s hard to step back and remind yourself the opposition isn’t personal. People (myself included) can be selfish, rude, arrogant, and any number of things and that’s their issue not yours. When you personalize it–it’s like embroidering their monogram on your heart. It doesn’t belong there.
For a pleaser like me this is an important reminder and perhaps why God gave me the opportunity to practice. I don’t necessarily want my skin to grow thicker, but I hope to get to the point that when the next loudmouth has a few choice words for me I can say, thanks for the compliment and press-on without giving it another thought. Life is too short to take everything so personally.