Autism in a weary world

Portia, in Act 5, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” utters, “How far that little candle throws his beams!/So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” (Don’t be impressed; I Googled it.)

Never accused of Mensa-like intelligence, my preferred take on that quote comes from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie Bucket places a coveted “Everlasting Gobstopper” on Mr. Wonka’s desk, and the Candyman replies, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Whether Elizabethan era or Hollywood, the message is simple: While you can’t control your circumstances, you can always control your actions.

Take William H. (Bill) Dalrymple for example. Bill is store manager at The Home Depot Superstore in Union/Vauxhall, New Jersey. With Hurricane Sandy about to descend, any and every store to carry emergency supplies had lines 50 deep… and no generators. On line at 6:30 a.m., Sunday, October 28, was my life-long friend Pamela (Pam), and her pre-teen son, Justin. Justin has classic autism; he has good days, he has really awful days. Justin also has severe food allergies; Pam must cook all his meals. The prospect of a storm without a generator is living in a “Land of No” — no power, no heat, no hot water, no stove, no oven and no regular schedule on which Justin requires.

A helping hand

Pam approached the first “orange apron” she could find. Fortuitously it was Bill. Pam asked what she knew was a rhetorical question: “Are you getting more generators?” Bill, kind and fatherly, said, “No.” Just then, Pam spied Justin literally licking the empty red gas container she had him hold. (Never underestimate the combined power of sensory overload, anxiety and autism.) Never one to indulge in self-pity, Pam shrugged her shoulders and commented how difficult it will be to lose power when you have a child with autism. Before she began the next sentence, Bill gave her his personal cell phone number. He told her to call him if she lost power; he would help.

Pam did text Bill her contact information. But, Bill didn’t text Pam back. No, Bill called Pam at home. Bill said, “You have enough to worry about without having to worry about a generator. If you lose power, I will find you a generator.”

On Monday morning, October 29, Pam’s father purchased one of the last available generators, and installed it at her home. That afternoon, Bill — whose store was nothing short of pandemonium — called Pam because he also found a generator. Grateful, Pam declined his offer, as she now had a generator.

Murphy’s Law

Tuesday morning, Pam and her family awoke to find downed trees on, in and around her home. As Murphy’s Law dictates, the new generator was broken too. Pam pressed her luck and called Bill. Within the hour, she received a text from Bill’s co-worker, asking for her home address. Soon after, Home Depot employees arrived with not only a generator, but with gas and oil, too, which ensured heat, hot water, television and light — essentials which soothe Justin.

By Wednesday, roads were passable. Pam and her family went to “forage for food and gas — which was non-existent.” She received another Home Depot call: To ensure Justin’s routine, they were going to deliver additional gas. (A Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have scripted this scenario!) But wait… there’s more!

With gas rationing in place, Pam once again found herself at Home Depot to purchase another red gas container. At checkout, two employees — unaware of Bill’s generosity — escorted Pam to her car. They told her, “People are going insane for gas containers. Who knows what they will do to get them!”

By day nine, power was still gone. When Pam oiled the generator, it made odd noises, so Pam once again reached out to Bill. Once again, Bill responded, and Home Depot arrived.

Paying it forward

By this point, Pam had cabin fever. She looked out her window to see crews from Texas “on the line” to repair her town’s electricity. Inspired and awed by Bill’s good deeds, she knew to “pay it forward.” Pam drove to her local Starbucks and purchased several industrial-size coffee containers. When she relayed her “Bill story” to the staff, they were so moved, they donated additional industrial-size coffee containers. Pam personally drove around town and poured workers one cup of coffee at a time, until there was none. Amazing how the kindness and generosity of one man, led to the kindness and generosity of many.

From their chance meeting nine days prior, Bill Dalrymple and his staff became part of Pam’s extended family. Bill could have simply walked away after Pam’s innocuous comment about losing power and autism; Bill owed Pam nothing. Bill owed our special needs community nothing. Yet he and his Union/Vauxhaul, New Jersey Home Depot team took on Pam’s concerns as their own. Their team eased the stress for one special needs family, and by extension, eased the burden for our collective community. The Home Depot Inc. co-founder Bernard “Bernie” Marcus is an active Autism Speaks board member and executive committee member, and is chairman of the Marcus Foundation.

True heroes

As a society we need to rethink what constitutes a hero. Is a hero someone who throws touchdowns… plays in a rock band… acts in movies and television? Or, is a hero someone like William H. (Bill) Dalrymple and his employees: Selfless. Humble. Brave. Compassionate. Game-changers.

For Bill and his dedicated Home Depot co-workers, your good deeds shine brightly in this weary world. And that, my friends, is the real Golden Ticket.

More about autism

The passion of autism
Autism: Let there be light
Autism: That’s what friends are for


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