up in a small town in the 1940’s and 50’s had many advantages, but it did not expose one to diversity of culture
or various ethnic groups. Our small town in Central Washington only had one outward show of diversity;
there were 101 churches for a population of a little over 12,000. The churches weren’t that diverse; they were all Christian.
Even after moving to a large metropolitan area, I never had any real exposure to various ethnic groups, partly because I am
a very solitary human being, and partly because I don’t see differences; I just see people.
real exposure to the different, those not treated kindly by God, came at second hand. My son, Sean, at fifteen, took a part
time job at United Cerebral Palsy. He started in the kitchen, but he was quickly moved into resident care. He talked a lot
about his job. Although Sean was, and is, a great huge strong man he had to learn to correctly lift a resident from a wheel-chair
into bed and back again. Without proper training, he could have hurt himself and/or injured the resident he was transporting.
His duties required that he dress and undress, bathe, shave, comb, help those in his care to eat, and when necessary assist
in the bathroom. Sean came to love the people he worked with and they him. When two of the residents married, they asked specifically
that Sean, now seventeen, would be the one who would help them consummate their union. He was honored and found it beautiful.
when I arrived early to pick Sean up from work, I had a rare opportunity to see exactly what Sean had found to love. An excursion
bus pulled into the parking lot and began to offload. There were several wheel-chairs; none of the passengers had easy or
fluid mobility. They were all very slow. It took forty-five minutes to unload that small mini bus (we ‘normal’
people would have emptied it in less than five). I learned that day. Each person on that bus helped others; no one tried to
push ahead. No one was impatient; each person, from first to last, had a big sunny smile and a friendly loving comment or
a gentle pat for others. I kept thinking, “How beautiful they are. Oh, how much we could learn from them.”
Rex, is a very special, different, young man. Others might label him: Retarded; fool; slow; natural, half-wit; backwards;
simple; simpleton; dummy; or as kindly(?), correctly(?), referred to today, developmentally challenged or mentally
handicapped. Retarded people were often venerated by ‘primitive’ societies as being touched by God. But today,
in our supposedly enlightened world, they come in for their share of misunderstanding, abuse, and fear. It’s not just
the labels that we give; it is also our actions. While one might smile at or speak to any ‘normal’ stranger, these
special people are all too often shied away from, almost shunned, as though they might have something catching. There are
so many fears and myths.
thing I remember hearing about these special people was, “Stay away from _______. He’s retarded, and retarded
people have an extremely strong sex drive.” I was six. I didn’t know what the words meant, but I did understand
that he was someone to be afraid of. What rot! At the time when I grew up, these special, delightful people were usually sent
off to an institution. They were hidden away, because “no one could handle them;” “they
‘couldn’t be taught;” or they were considered to be “potentially violent.” Except in rare cases,
these were all excuses. The truth was that parents were taught that these children were an embarrassment; the family was concerned,
or convinced by outsiders, that others would judge the parents and the other children in the family as being somehow less
than human because of these children.
a very special young man who is sometimes an embarrassment. He is a child in a twenty-five year old body. Rex is quite attractive,
but he does have that “different” look, He is a good sized man who is somewhat overweight, his mouth is a little
slack, his walk is lumbering, but mostly the “different look” is because of the true innocence in his beautiful
bright blue eyes. Rex is not always the most socially presentable young man. His table manners are awful; he eats too rapidly;
his bites are too large; he often has white salad dressing all over his mouth, in his “Zorro” mustache, and down his chin; he talks with his mouth full, and
he does not always use his napkin, even when reminded. Loud burps are normal, so is passing gas, typical little boy rites
of passage. But . . . . . Although Rex has a speech impediment there is nothing wrong with his hearing, understanding, or
eyesight. When strangers speak to him, he communicates as well as he is able and he always has a real smile
for those to whom he talks. Don’t you wish everyone would do the same?
a stuffed “Snoopy” with him almost everywhere he goes, just as he has since infancy. Snoopy has his clothes changed
frequently according to the season or festivity, or to match the character Rex himself is acting out at the time; Superman;
Batman; Dick Tracey, etc. Snoopy does not go to work with Rex and he usually waits in the car when we go in to eat or shop.
Even though Rex knows that Snoopy is not a real dog, he talks to him, and sometimes we do too. Snoopy is a part of our family.
Rex is both a trial and a joy. He loves to tease, and play small games like hide and seek; he is thrilled to think he has
“scared” someone with a big “BOO”’ or sudden movement, but he knows it is just a game, and he
is concerned if he has actually scared someone. Rex requires a stronger, more exaggerated reaction to his small jokes than
a normal twenty-five year old man. In many ways, he is every inch twenty-five and at the same time he is only six. His disposition
is almost always sunny. Rex likes to receive and give big hugs, he also likes playful physical contact like being poked in
the ribs, or playing spider on a hand or shoulder. Like any child he likes to be acknowledged and will exaggerate just how
difficult a task is for extra attention and praise. His talk and laughter is sometimes overloud and obnoxious especially when
watching his T.V. programs. He urinates partially on the floor, just like all little boys, except from a much greater height.
Rex will not be pushed or persuaded if he has set his mind against something, but if one is patient and asks for an explanation,
his reasoning is usually sound. Once Rex’s point of view is understood, the problem can be resolved. Rex was never taught,
although he could have been, to independently do simple home chores, but he will willingly lend a hand voluntarily or when
asked. Rex has one very rare talent; he can see what the next step in a project will be and he is right there, ready with
the correct tool or assistance without being asked or told. Rex dresses himself; he is very neat and particular about his
dress; he also brushes his teeth. A highlight of Rex’s and his father’s day is the two of them in the huge spa
tub getting scrubbed clean. It is not unusual for Rex to slap himself up along the side of his head and mutter, “Think
head, think,” when he cannot remember something. But from time to time, Rex has surprising insights, vocabulary usage,
and written word recognition.
a job that he goes to cheerfully each day. It is useful employment set up by our government for those like Rex. The tasks
set are within the capacity of each worker: mowing lawns; using a leaf blower; cleaning and restocking shelves; assembling
various small things, etc. Rex never gripes and groans or complains about how much he hates his job. It is just his job. He
doesn’t know, or care, that the pay is substandard, nor does he rush out to spend every penny of his check; his purchases
are always carefully chosen. Through his work he is able to associate with his peer group, there he is not different and/or
misunderstood. He is well liked and accepted. To be perfectly honest, wherever we have taken Rex he has been accepted and
liked. There are times when a more sensitive salesperson or waiter (usually, but not always, a younger person) takes extra
time to try to get to know Rex, to understand what he has said, and include him in the conversation. When this happens, I
think, “There is still hope for our World.”
Rex loves deeply he is somehow insulated from the strong emotions we “normal” people feel, use and misuse: grief;
anger; hate. Rex will never grow old, except in body; he will never grow sour, embittered, or mean and spiteful. He will never
be cynical, or nasty; he will always look on the bright side. Rex is full of love and laughter, and because of Rex there is
more laughter in our home than might otherwise be the case. He will never lose his sense of wonder. Like all children, Rex
teaches us. I won’t claim that being with Rex never leads to frustration. It frequently seems as if you should be able
to push just the right button to make him ‘normal’, as though it were only an elusive step away. Mostly, though,
I’m not sure that Rex could be improved upon; the gifts he gives are very rare and wonderful. Rex IS different.
He is wonderful. He has been touched by God. He and those like him are a diversity
that is very, very special.
time you see one of God’s special people, give them a smile, a genuine smile, and maybe say, “Hello.” You
might be surprised at just how good it makes your day.