Friday, October 24, 2008

The Bestest Present of All

So we decided to go out for a beer. I need to let the secret slip. I haven't had a drink of any kind of booze for almost three years now. I've lost the taste for it. I still enjoy the environment of a pub, I just sit there (primly) in my wheelchair and order tea. Anyways, we decided to go out for a beer. I was a bit worried about getting back because the bar we'd chosen was downhill from us. So getting there was easy. But downhill one way is uphill back. Even so Joe felt we were up to the challenge.

On arriving we were greeted by the bartender, who we used to know from our Toronto days long past. Several people stopped by the table to say 'hi' and 'welcome back to Toronto'. It was nice, albeit surprising. I didn't think that our absence would be noted or our return greeted. I thought we were a little more anonymous that we apparently are.

One old guy, he's our age, stopped by our table with a grin. He'd heard that we'd moved back to Toronto and said he was hoping to run into us because he had a story to tell. He mentioned that he had just had a grandson and before we could congratulate him he raised his hand so he could continue uninterupted. His grandson was born with Down Syndrome.

He recounted an evening in the bar which happened, maybe 25 years ago. He had made some comment that I thought was derogitory to people with disabilities and I called him on it. We got into a furious debate and I'd called him a bigot. As he spoke I began to recall bits and pieces of that argument. Believe it or not I don't have that argument very often - not as often as I'd like actually. Suddenly it all came back to me. We were at our corner table, smoking furiously, and he and I were in a shouting match. I told him that it was unthinkable that someone who experienced prejudice should espouse prejudice. (I still believe that.) Anyone from any kind of minority should have a deep understanding of what it was to be pre-judged, to be seen as a member of a group rather than an individual, to be dismissed without having been met.

Soon after our argument, he took the opportunity to volunteer at his son's school in the reading programme. He and his wife had separated (she was intolerant of her husband being gay - who'd a thought) and he wanted a way to stay very involved in his son's life. One of his jobs became reading to the special needs children and in no time at all he discovered that 'special needs were typical needs' (his line and I'm going to use it again and again and again). He fell in love with a little girl with Down Syndrome and was surprised at her capacity for 'just being human'.

Meeting that girl prepared him for the moment his son told him that they were going to have a baby with Down Syndrome he was thrilled for his son. 'It's a different journey but the same destination' (his line and I'm going to use it ....) He got all teary as he spoke about his grandbaby and how all is fine with family and with life.

Then he thanked me for calling him a bigot and making him think. He said that an encounter that I probably didn't even remember (I didn't until he brought it up) made a difference in his life, a difference he was grateful for. When he was done I gave him a few of the 'Words Hit' cards that I carry in my wheelchair bag. He read it, grabbed me into a big hug and said thanks.

We stopped several times on the way uphill home for Joe to catch his breath, he is a year older than me, and at one of the pauses we reflected on the conversations we have in our lives. We never know who hears our words, but we can be assured they are heard. Suddenly, right on Yonge Street, Joe pulled me into a hug.

It was his birthday and I kept getting gifts.


wendy said...

What a fabulous story. It's so true that we never know what impact our words have had on someone else. I teared up at the hug on Yonge Street. How great is that? :-)

Glee said...

Just been for a zoom above Yonge St in Google Earth to see if I could get an idea of where you're at. But crikey it's a long St with quite a few pubs and bars on it. Had a bit of a look around anyway. Nice big park on Yonge.

I spend quite a bit of time "walking" around cities all over the world in Google Earth at "street level". It's fantastic with its 360 degree view. Great way to see the world for crips or poor ppl who can't get there. I just love Boston with its beautiful buildings.

I tried the flight simulator and crashed into Toronto twice before I gave up. Hope I didn't hit your apartment Dave!

Glee on a warm Adelaide evening.

HeatherUK said...

I had to go find out what word hit cards are and they're fab. I read your blog every day and it is always interesting and reliably thought provoking. Most days i need a bit of that so THANKS. :D

Heather UK

Stephanie said...

GREAT story...again! Your life and encounters are amazing and what a feeling it must be to have your actions and words used throughout your life in some way "validated" (for lack of knowing a better word to use) all these years later! I would be overwhelmed. I know there are times when I am telling someone why what they are saying is wrong, especially the "r" word, I always wonder if I do any would be great to KNOW! Anyway, GREAT JOB on just living your life and being who you are...YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

lina said...

what a great way to start my day. Absolutely beautiful story.
thanks Dave.

gracie1956 said...

It is so cool when that happens. I have had things like that come back to me a couple of times and it is like God patting me on the head and saying... Good job kid!
You just never know. We really do affect people and I hope, for me, that it is more times for good than not so good.
If you ever doubt that you are doing good just come in here and read again some of the comments that we, your readers, leave for you.
The "r" word cards that we received have made such a difference in my daughters life. She no longer just sits and hurts when she hears that word. You have empowered her and I am so truely grateful. In this house you are greatly valued.

Anonymous said...

There is a tradition in Italy that when it is your birthday you give to others - like buy them a drink at the bar. A way of saying thank-you for another year. I guess hanging around us has rubbed off on Joe. His birthday, your gift. Must be all those Vita Vibes! MDN

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...


Reading Gracie 1956's comment here makes me think to ask you: when you talk with a group of self-advocates (or parents), do you disseminate copies of those "words hit like a fist" card about the "r" word?

I remember Gracie's story (I think it was her, yes?) about how her daughter used the card once with someone who used the "r" word ... and if the cards are that powerful and helpful for one self-advocate then maybe others would want to start using them too. I would think the cards would have so much more impact coming directly from the person most affected by the "r" word, don't you?

Some years ago, I once told someone I wished that we all had an angel or something who could come up to each of us and give us a "quarterly report" on the long-term impact and "ripple effect" our actions have had on the world. I've always been a big believer in the idea that sometimes little actions can have unexpectedly large consequences, either for good or bad, and sometimes these consequences don't come about for many years, long after we've lost contact with the person we affected.

Or perhaps we affect person X, who then affects person Y (who we've never met), who then affects person Z (who we haven't met either) ... If only we could know!

Alas, there doesn't seem to be a way to get a real-life, fully detailed and comprehensive "quarterly report" on the long-term results of all the "ripple effects" we start ... but it's so cool to know that, every once in a while, it IS possible for some information to filter back to you!

Cynthia said...

What a great gift you and Joe shared on his birthday!
I have learned so much from your blog. I've never been very outspoken, something I was taught as I grew up. (I won't go into how) I'm becoming braver and hopeful that one can make a difference, a huge one, by speaking up. Thank you for your many gentle lessons.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

How wonderful to know that something you did all those years ago has made such an impact for your friend, for that child, for Joe.

I thought you might like to know that we had our Open House for high school students here at Loyalist College last Wed. and the DSW program was giving out Words Hit Like a Fist cards - they were pretty popular, lead to lots of discussion and ideas about how the high school students could address some of the ridicule they witness. More ripples, Dave!

Shan said...

I love how you've been sneaking in those 'he's a year older than me' lines.

Tammy said...

What a wonderful story.

Your comment about not having the taste for beer anymore brought something to mind....NOT that I am saying this was ever your problem.
My neighbor "down the road a piece",was a raging alcoholic. After nearly 40 years of drinking A LOT, he quit, cold turkey...just done.
He tells people. "I just woke up that morning and The Lord had taken the taste for it right out of my mouth" That was years ago. It's his own personal Miracle.
Sorry...just came to mind. Didn't mean to go OT.

Anonymous said...

That post made me cry!.....The way the circle was closed for your old friend with the arrival of his grandchild with DS!
How BIG of him to acknowledge your part in his life. He could just have said nothing to you.
I love getting unexpected gifts!
Your daily post are one of those unexpected gifts for me....thanks Dave!
Love LinMac

Our Life In Sunny SoCal said...

I've just been introduced to your blog by a friend and I'm glad she shared you with me. Thanks for taking the time to share wonderful stories with the world. An experience just isn't complete until it has been processed, analyzed for seeds of the big picture, and then shared so that all may gain insight and wisdom.