Big, bold, brassy, are the three words that pop into mind when thinking about how to describe her. She has a voice that sounds like it was crafted together out of whiskey and smoke. In another life she'd have been a broadway star, with a huge personality and a presence that people would pay for. I like her.
I know, I know, I know that most of the world would describe her disability before any of the rest, but we all know here, that disability is a descriptor - but only one, and often not the most important one. I was chatting with Manuela about her yesterday, as I was about to tell her this story, and Manuela told me of her arrival from the institution. I felt as if the cosmos had reached down and slapped me. I only know this woman in the present tense. As a woman with a huge personality, with a little disability mixed in, as a woman who moves about her world with a noisy confidence. I forget, sometimes, that people have a history, that everyone I meet was someone the day before I knew them. I should have realized, given that Vita as an agency was built on the concept of freeing people from institutional placement, she would have come from the land of the long corridor.
But I wanted to tell Manuela this story. Simply because it made me happy.
At some point in the day a snack cart is brought around to the offices upstairs at Vita. Someone with a disability, along with a support worker, asks if we'd like to buy a snack. The choices are what you'd expect, the kind of stuff they stock at gas stations - chocolate bars, pop, chips - health food. I always bought Sesame Snacks - those little brittle wedges of sesame seeds surrounded in something sweet and sticky. I love those things. I even kept a little supply of change just for that purpose. In my mind these were not as bad as a chocolate bar, that they were halfway healthy because they had seeds, I refused to check the label, sometimes you can be two well informed and sometimes purposeful self delusion is a wonderful thing.
But then, suddenly, several months ago, maybe even as long as a year ago, the Sesame Snacks disappeared from the cart. I always asked and was told that the supplier no longer had them on offer. I would look longingly at the chocolate bars and then smile and say, "No, thanks," and bid them fare well.
I heard the cart arrive because she was the person doing the selling today. You hear her. It's impossible not to. Her voice carries. Her voice makes me smile. She went to Dunja's office, then to Franca and Ann's, all the while glancing in at me. When she's finished with them she wheels the cart around with some force, her eyes connect with mine. "I'm going to make you very happy today," she says with real excitement. She reaches to a big white box sitting on top of the cart and hauls it up, knocking things from their place. She doesn't notice the series of small catastrophes that were set off by her lifting the box out of it's place. She steps over the fallen items and plops the box on my desk.
"I got what you like today," she announces. I look in the box to find it full of Sesame Snacks. I buy 8 of them (wouldn't want to disappoint her) and pull out my money to pay. I am grinning so big that tears form in my eyes. "You've made my day!" I announce.
"I did," she said grinning huge herself, "I made your day."
She takes the money, then picks the box with the remaining snacks off my desk and plops it back on the cart. She looked at me again, "You happy?"
"I'm really happy, I love these things."
On her way out she says, "I can make him happy!!" There was absolute joy in her voice.
Joy at the fact that she could make someone else happy. That she could do something that made the world brighter for someone else. This is the essence of what it is to be fully part of the world. To know that you can have an impact, that you can make the day different for another, that you matter.
And she matters.
It's just that yesterday, she understood that.
Hoo Rah! for those moments of self esteem.
Hoo Rah! for Sesame Snacks.
Hoo Rah! that she's home for good.