Please Excuse Steffi (And So Many Others)

Dear World,

Please excuse Steffi. I’m using her childhood nickname to show just how close she and I are, and how genuine my plea will be. And to show that, at bottom, she’s still a child. Asking Steffi to act like an adult would be cruel and unjust. It would be like asking a puppy to act like a blade of grass: illogical, impossible, and incomprehensible.

The problem — if you can call it that — is that Steffi wants to have fun. She loves pleasure, and she loves to learn and think whenever she can. And she believes every moment is valuable; she doesn’t want to sacrifice even one minute to shoulds or expectations unless they are her own. So… she doesn’t want to waste her time shopping for adult clothes and shoes. She doesn’t see a point in being cordial to mean people if she can run away from them without saying a word. She wants to go to the fancy restaurant in a sweatshirt and sneakers. She likes the fancy atmosphere; she simply doesn’t want to contribute to it.

I know, I know: it gets worse. Steffi stares really rudely if she notices something that intrigues her: bright red curly hair, olive skin along with ice blue eyes, African features combined with albinism. If she sees an opening, she will ask you deep questions about issues you probably don’t want to discuss. A coffee meeting is an occasion to ask how you feel about death. Sit next to her on the bus, and she might seek your thoughts on the moment that separates wakefulness from sleep, or whether you can relate to people who fall somewhere outside the gender binary.

But that’s just how she is, World. I beg you to understand. She wants to remember that coffee meeting or bus ride in forty years, and that won’t happen if she doesn’t make it really, really interesting. Forty years from now, she won’t remember sitting next to you and chatting about doing your taxes or the logistics of driving your kids to band practice and tennis lessons. If she can get you to talk about your daughter’s weird obsessions that come out during her lessons… then she will remember.

World, I realize that Steffi does not qualify for an Individualized Life Program that offers special assistance. I tried to get one for her, but you turned down my request. You said: yes, she is weak at many skills, and yes, she is weird, but she has compensated to the point where her life scores even in her worst areas are above average. Now, World, I know that those scores give a radically false impression, but I also know that you won’t offer Steffi any help, because I have tried many times and I know how it goes. You will expect her to muddle through along with all the regular humans. She will need to be productive somehow, to engage with other people without causing too much of a ruckus, to get through her days without courting danger or other disaster.

And, for the most part, she is doing it. I am so very proud of her. I don’t often tell her that because I don’t want her to rest on her laurels, but I’m saying it now. She gets lost all the time, but she keeps on trying, walking for hours until she finds her destination. She gets her work done. She wishes she could eat all day and all night, and, while she eats more than she should, this could be a whole lot worse. Despite her weirdness, she has great friends and gets along with most people.

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True, problems occasionally arise. Let’s be honest: they arise more often than we might hope. But Steffi tries and, usually, she succeeds.

So why am I writing to you, World, if I’ve given up on asking you to offer Steffi special help? Mostly because I want you to be understanding. She wants you to be understanding. She doesn’t want you to look at her and feel angry, frustrated, or upset.

I am also concerned about all those other people whose requests for special help you turned down. World, there are so many people who could use some assistance, even if they don’t seem to be in acute distress. Life is hard. This world is hard. To put it bluntly, you are very hard to negotiate. And here we all are, scurrying through it all, trying to survive and even to succeed. You help a few of us, but the rest are on our own.

It’s outrageous. Steffi needs help, as do so many others who struggle. They all need a place to belong, a mentor to guide them, a feeling that you, World, are good, righteous, welcoming, and warm. So many of us could use a little time in that resource room of life, and so few are allowed access. Open up and let us into your goodness, World. We’re not greedy; we’re humans who need to find our way.


Image Credit: Liane Metzler on