Yesterday at the mall dropping off Joe's perscription for glasses we stopped at Teopia for a cup of tea to kill time until the glasses were ready. We noticed a friend walking by and invited her over to chat for a bit. In the end we had a chin wag of epic proportions. Gossip? Yeah. After we left we were heading back and we ran into a young woman who stopped me and told me that she was a student studying at the college, further that they were using my book, "Just Say Know" in their class along with the video "The Ethics of Touch". She recognized me from the video. She told me, blushing, that I was a role model for her. I blushed in return and we said our goodbyes.
I then started thinking about role models that I had while young ... there were a few ...
The high school janitor had to be one for me. He seemed to gather about him the discarded kids. The ones that had no potential, no ranking, no respect. This guy seemed to be able to relate very differently to us all than anyone else ever did, or cared to. The cool thing about him is that he wasn't at all social worky or filled with folky wisdom, in fact he did everything he could to establish himself as an alpha male kind of guy. What he had was time. And humour. And a capacity for looking at us clearly. He liked to stand out side the building and have smoke and invariably there'd be one of the school's losers standing with him. Often that would be me. I have a variety of janitor memories. Oddly, still, they are quite private.
When I was a boy, I saw the movie "The Miracle Worker" with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft. Instantly I was taken by Annie Sullivan and remember thinking that it was incredible to have that kind of impact on someone else's life. To seek out another, to make the world available to someone, to capture but not cage another soul. It moved me greatly and deeply. It was that movie that had me thinking about working, somehow, with those with disabilities. To this day, the movie remains one of my favourites.
Ruth was an older woman who ran a shop around the corner who loved to smoke and drink scotch. She was full of tales from a live well lived, she wore her 'outsider' status as a badge. It was amazing to come under the sphere of her influence. She was fascinated by my work with people with disabilities and liked to hear me talk of my work. It was Ruth who first prodded me to speak up, to not be shy about my opinions. It's hard to believe now that I lecture around the world, that there was a time when my fear of public speaking, of being in front of others, was debilitating. I remember telling her that I was going to a conference for a day on sexuality and disability. She said, "Remember, speak up." And then at the conference someone said something so disrespectful to the sexuality of women with disabilities that I was shocked. Ruth's voice was in my head and my hand went up. I said a sentence, a whole sentence, in front of others. I got applause. That was the first time I'd ever spoken in public. It wasn't the last.
I still have role models, I still have heros, I still admire others. While I felt a bit uncomfortable with being praised thusly, like the janitor would have been, it was nice of her to stop and tell me. It sent my down memory lane ... and I'm still there.