Bringing A Child With Autism to the Theater? This Reaction Might Surprise You.
The following is an excerpt from the book, How To Live A Good Life by Jonathan Fields.
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“I am angry and sad,” Kelvin Moon Loh’s Facebook post began. “Just got off stage from today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone brought their autistic child to the theater.”
Loh was in the Broadway cast of The King and I, and a mom came to see the show with her son, who was apparently autistic. During an intense moment Loh described as “the whipping scene,” the child yelped and then, according to reports, became inconsolable. Loh wrote, “His voice pierced the theater. The audience started to rally against the mother and her child to be removed. I heard murmurs of ‘Why would you bring a child like that to the theater?'”
I’ve heard stories of Broadway performers breaking the fourth wall to admonish audience members for offenses that ranged from cell phones ringing to talking and even coughing. This was, by all accounts, far more disruptive. Audience members raged against the “offenders” until finally, against the child’s pleading to stay, they left. How dare this mother ruin their experience!
The first two lines of Loh’s post seemed to tee up a coming tirade, building on the audience’s rage. Indeed it did. But not in the way you might think. He continued:
This is wrong. Plainly wrong. Because what you didn’t see was a mother desperately trying to do just that [calm her son]. But her son was not compliant. What they didn’t see was a mother desperately pleading with her child as he gripped the railing refusing—yelping more out of defiance. I could not look away. I wanted to scream and stop the show and say—”EVERYONE RELAX. SHE IS TRYING. CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT SHE IS TRYING???!!!!” I will gladly do the entire performance over again. Refund any ticket because—
For her to bring her child to the theater is brave. You don’t know what her life is like. Perhaps, they have great days where he can sit still and not make much noise because this is a rare occurrence. Perhaps she chooses to no longer live in fear, and refuses to compromise the experience of her child. Maybe she scouted the aisle seat for a very popular show in case such an episode would occur. She paid the same price to see the show as you did for her family. Her plan, as was yours, was to have an enjoyable afternoon at the theater and slowly her worst fears came true.
In a comment to his post, he added that, as the lights lifted for the curtain call, he saw the seats where the mother and child had been. Empty. He was heartbroken. “I want her to know,” he wrote, “that she is brave and should continue to champion her child… I will continue to make theater for her. And that is the best I can do for now!”
That is compassion. The ability to step outside our self-interest, stand in another’s shoes, feel that person’s suffering and want to do something to make it better. Empathy meets altruism. It is, quite possibly, the key to human existence and the answer to much of the violence, strife, and separation that seem to increasingly define the world we inhabit.
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If you enjoyed this short soulful story, you can find more quotes, resources, and info from the book below:
By: Jonathan Fields
Book Overview: Seriously . . . another book that tells you how to live a good life? Don’t we have enough of those? You’d think so. Yet, more people than ever are walking through life disconnected, disengaged, dissatisfied, mired in regret, declining health, and a near maniacal state of gut-wrenching autopilot busyness. How to Live a Good Life is your antidote; a practical and provocative modern-day manual for the pursuit of a life well lived. No need for blind faith or surrender of intelligence; everything you’ll discover is immediately actionable and subject to validation through your own experience.
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Support: Autism Theater Initiative
Read Next: The Story of Kyle