Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Turning the Paige

Ruth and Ron. Ruth ran a small specialty store just around the corner from where Joe and I lived on Alexander Street in Toronto. Ron worked as an art director for a Christmas light company. That's what they did, that's not who they were. (A delineation that many do not either make or understand.) They each had a whole life that they owned and only part of their lives touched mine. But I feel so grateful to them. I have always prized the wisdom of elders and, lacking parental love and affection as a child, I sought out my own family in my own way. Ruth smoked too many cigarettes in a day and drank her Scotch neat. Ron couldn't tell a joke withoug disolving in laughter never finishing, never making it to the punchline. Ruth loved the racetrack and telling tales of London and youth. Ron loved, more to listen than speak. In their way they each parented me. Gave me freely of their love and affection. Gave freely attention and even more carefully considered advice. I am fortunate that two people, no children of their own, found me when I desperately needed to be found.

I think of them when I think of Paige. I met her in Maine, I think, she was a surprising woman. Living a rare life - with a rare disorder that was supposed to kill by 6 - she proved that doctor's at best, guess. When I met Paige she explained to me that she had Trisomy 18 (I think) and had been misdiagnosed as having Down Syndrome. She did have an intellectual delay, but it was so slight to be barely noticed. I met her as she was going to college taking Early Education as she wanted to work with children. Her goal came from her experiences being placed to work on wards with babies in an institution where she lived for a long stretch of her life. She loved the role that she had of care providing. She loved that she cared for her own. She wanted the babies that she touched to know of her care - of her hands touching them gently. She had seen what institutions did to adult and child alike. She wanted to give, for just a second, a loving parent's touch. She almost cried as she explained to me that she could feel the children loving her back.

And Stanley. What a gentle gentle man. I met him on my first visit to a group home that was oddly structured, it was two homes in one connected by a passage way. It was way way way more "home" than it was "group". I still remember that house and the people who worked in it. I remember then learning that it was possible to provide real love and real respect for people with disabilities. I was there to meet about those who had behaviour problems and what I got from staff was unstinting concern for those in their care. It astounds me still and whenever I drive by where the home stood I always, always point it out to Joe. Now he points it out to me before we even get near it, "Isn't that where the house was that ..." And then he laughs at my predictability.

But I met Stan at that house. We chatted one day and he talked to me about the institution that he had moved from and he told me about his 'boys'. It took a second but then I realized as tears sprung to my eyes that he was talking about some of the younger guys who had moved on to the ward and, in their first days, were frightened. Stan would seek them out. Make sure they were OK. Never was a human being more worthy of being called a gentleman. For he was that. I was touched to know that where there needed to be a loving Dad ... there was Stanley, where there needed to be a loving Mom ... there was Paige. And Ron and Ruth and thousands of others who love without counting the cost - because they want to - because they can.

It amazes me that there is enough grace in the universe to light the path of a needy boy into Ruth's shop, into Ron's presence. It amazes me more that that same grace placed Paige where she needed to be, and placed the responsibility to love into Stan's heart.

We are not alone.

4 comments:

Frances said...

Yes. And it seems to me, the more I walk out in that 'agape' love, the more love I have in my heart to give. Loved your stories, Dave, and love to stand and be amazed today at the grace that is the world over in people like Ruth, Stan and Paige and Ron.

Lily said...

Stanley. I knew him too. For the last four years of his life...

Boy, you have him pegged, Dave. He was a gentle man all right. And a gentleman. And a Dad...

Well into his eighties by the time I met him, Stanley had become so feeble that he could easily have been knocked off his feet... When I was busy tidying the kitchen after supper, putting away dishes or mopping the floor, Stanley always wanted me to sit down. He would say I worked too hard and HE (the supported) wanted to make ME (the support) a cup of tea! I would often go home at night smiling and shaking my head at the thought of who was actually supporting who!

Stanley was a man of great dignity. He was so patient with me, a new staff and raw recruit, while I learned his routines. He would gently direct me as to what needed to be done and in what order, but he never complained when I forgot something or when I got things wrong. I think I knew Stanley for three years before I found out he took sugar in his tea. Once enlightened I felt TERRIBLE when I thought about how many cups of unsweetened tea I had served that poor patient man. Though perfectly capable of telling me I had got it wrong, he never did. But he sure seemed grateful -- and his eyes would crinkle up and sparkle -- everytime his tea was served to him sweetened from there on in.

One evening Stan said or did something that was very endearing, and though I can't remember now what it was, I remember how I responded. My relationship with my father had been such that I had never been able to believe that he loved me and I certainly didn't feel like I was accepted. I had seen once again that "Dad" side of Stanley coming out and I stopped, looked at him full in the face and said, "Oh, Stanley! I wish I'd had you for a father!"

Well, he lunged at me, threw his stiff old arms around me and gave me SUCH a hug as I'll never forget. There was healing in that hug -- deep healing.

I'll never forget Stanley...

Thanks for stirring up the memories, Dave. I read your words avidly every day, but today was particularly special. You've become a strange kind of a one-way friend in that I've come to know you through your sometimes pretty vulnerable words, but you don't know me! It was really cool to realize that we both loved and respected Stanley -- that we were both affected by him...

Belinda said...

Dave, thank you so much for including Stan in your tribute to people who loved well.

Stan was part of our lives for 29 years; he was a special gift to our family when we lived for ten years in that house on Bayview Avenue as "house parents" for a group of people with disabilities. He was there before we came and he and the other guys trained me! If I do anything right, the credit goes to them. Later, as the winds of change brought closure to the institution of which the home was a satellite, we remained together in a different relationship for the next 19 years. When he died, at age 86 in 2003, his funeral was attended by a big crowd of people who loved him dearly and whose lives he'd impacted. There were many tears and much love expressed. Our grandchildren still get tears in their eyes if I mention "Papa Stan," and an elderly couple who "volunteered" with him, still deeply grieve the loss of their dear friend. I have a piece of his knitting framed in a shadow box on my laundry room wall. The needles are still in it, as he put it down when he knit his last row. His hands were never idle and we encouraged him to knit so he wouldn't feel so badly when he saw the staff working hard (which really bothered him when he was too frail to help).

You aren't the only ones who point out the place where the house stood every time you go by. The guys who lived there do, with happy memories, and we do too!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Lilly, you brought tears to my eyes with your comment on Stanley. I can imagine that hug. I can imagine both your need but also his need to give it. It was that way with Ruth and Ron. Belinda, your kids were so lucky to know 'Papa Stan', sometimes we entertain angels unaware. I was thrilled that you both wrote about Stan, I'm hoping that someone who knew Paige will post one day too.