Tonight I witnessed firsthand the best and worst of society. Soccer is a challenging sport. Soccer with Ez is more challenging. Tonight was the first time this month we have made it through a whole practice without him simply going to the car to go home midway through. It was also the first time he actually played in a scrimmage. We have tried several times, but he refused to go in and was more interested, again, in simply going home. It has been challenging. Dwayne, my coaching partner, has been a constant trooper and continued to allow Ezri to proceed at his own pace, albeit a pace that has recently seemed to be headed in the opposite direction!
So when the ball rolled right in front of where Ez and I were sitting and watching the game, I asked if Ezri wanted to do a throw-in. He jumped up and did it. It was beautiful. I wanted sooo much to take a picture of it, knowing full well it might be the only action he actually does--but he needed the help so I stayed in the moment to help make it as successful as possible. But after the ball was thrown in, Ezri surprised all of us by running after the ball and trying to play! Now, if you've spent any time near Ez, you'll know he's a runner and has energy to spare. But focusing the energy has been the challenge. He loved it. He just kept chasing the ball all over the field. Never quite there, but never too far away.
It was at that point when it happened. A couple kids on the other team started making fun of him. His eyes. His mannerisms. How his verbal skills weren't quite up to standard speed. At first it was one. Then two. And my heart broke a little. I stopped and took a couple minutes to gently explain how Ez is different. How God made him special and how we are all different in different ways. The other team's coach was right beside me helping explain and the coach's older daughter was there also, and did an awesome job trying to explain how we are all different and shouldn't be making fun of anyone, especially people who we don't know and especially people who don't have any control over their disability. And the kids nodded. Apologized. And the game went on.
Several of the kids on the other team took extra effort to tell Ez "good job" when he did a throw in or was running. Ez also had a couple teammates who were especially encouraging--even passing him the ball when it would have been more advantageous to keep dribbling themselves. But the absolute coolest thing happened as we were walking back to the car. Ez was a little ahead of me and a buddy from our team, a kid who's a great athlete, came up and fist-bumped Ez and told him good game. Again. my heart broke a little--in a good way.
There's always time to be kind. There's always time to learn a little more about the needs of others around us. There's always time to say sorry. Until there isn't. So please make the time needed to do the right things while you can. And take every opportunity you can find to encourage your kids or the other kids you might know to be the friend Ezri and special folks like Ez need. He doesn't always need a hero, but we always need a friend. Praise God for lessons learned and lived tonight on the AYSO soccer field.