So it’s Sunday morning and Greg and I are heading to the zoo with the kids. And of course, living in Seattle and knowing that its about 45 degrees and cloudy out, a stop at Starbucks is in order. Oh, who am I kidding…a Starbucks stop is always in order and has nothing to do with the weather. So Greg pulls up and I run in to grab our drinks. As it turns out, the after church crowd has gathered at this particular Starbuck’s and there is an insanely long line. Ah well, it’s not like it’s an option to go without, so I begrudgingly get in line. Then a young man comes up and gets in line behind me and I notice that this young man happens to have Down’s Syndrome. I will tell you that back in High School I was in the Honor Society and part of the requirements for the organization included some sort of community service. My choice was always the Special Olympics and I will confess it is 100% because of the kids with Down’s Syndrome. They are some of the happiest, most loving, most accepting people God has ever created and my experiences with them were pure joy.
But even with a ‘disability’ these kids (and adults) always know if people are uncomfortable around them. So often ‘normal’ people feel awkward and don’t want to stand too close simply because they are ill at ease. So between a smile and the fact that he could tell I didn’t mind standing right next to him, after a minute or two he taps me gently, showing me his zippered bag and asks if he can buy me a drink. And so our conversation begins. I tell him, “no thank you,” that he doesn’t need to do that and immediately ask him what his favorite drink is. He says it’s a mocha and that he usually gets the 16 ounce, but today can only get the 12 ounce. So by this time I’ve waited my way up to the front of the line, order my drinks, plus a 16 ounce mocha for Zack. Right about now, Zack’s dad walks up and says, “what are you up to Zack?” And I get to assure his dad that Zack is “just hitting on the ladies and has somehow done such a good job that he has me buying his drink.” This gets a kind smile out of dad who goes to sit down again allowing Zack and me to continue our conversation.
So as any Starbuck’s devotee will tell you, placing your drink order, even with a line, is the speediest part of the process. Waiting for your actual drink to be made is the larger act of patience (or addiction, whichever you prefer). So Zack and I move over to wait for our drinks and continue our chat. In short order some custom crafted mocha order with white chocolate, extra foam and no whip cream or some such thing comes up and Zack reaches for the “mocha.” I find myself only too happy to tell him that that drink is someone else’s and we need to wait a bit longer. Which means I get to talk to Zack for at least another minute or two. In which time I get to discover that he graduated from Shorecrest High School in 2004 and that his sister, Brook’s, favorite drink is a tall latte with extra foam. I even go so far as to point out the fact that there are a number of police officers inside the Starbuck’s meeting for coffee and humorously ask Zack what he’s done and why are all the cops here? He laughs, completely getting the joke and I laugh, not because it was funny but because he is making me so happy. Through our entire conversation, Zack never stops smiling and looks me in the eye continuously. He doesn’t know awkwardness or insincerity. Everything is pure.
I’ll be honest with you. I hadn’t had the best week. But there were certainly a couple of high points and Zack, the most remarkable among them. I walked out of that Starbuck’s feeling both happy and hopeful. Happy for the smile that is on my face and how rewarding such a brief encounter can be, and hopeful because Zack reminds me, without any effort on his part, of what is still good and special and wonderful in the world. And I walk out the door wondering what exactly does it say that we label Zack as the one with the “handicap.” I can’t think of the last time someone offered to buy my latte or made me feel so good just by being there. And I know that the rest of us who are “normal” can do so much better, be so much better, offer so much more. So we eventually get our drinks, I shake Zack’s hand and tell him that I hope to run into him again sometime soon. I say that a lot in passing. I don’t think I have ever meant it so much.