Monday, October 16, 2006


It was called a 'pre-vocational' programme. Back when 'pre' meant 'never'. The folks who came to this particular day programme were a rag tag bunch that really only had disability in common. They came and went to various 'groups' that were set up during the day. Let's see there was my exciting 'numbers' group where I had puzzles in number shapes and where we reviewed 1 to 10 every day. Exciting stuff this. There were other groups too like 'cooking' (where learning how to boil an egg got you a diploma) and 'hygiene' (cleanliness is next to godliness but not stinking was the more earthly aim).

As much as I mock it now, and understand that what we were doing was silly, we were all in earnest then. We really did want to teach those whom society had deemed 'uneducable' it seemed more noble than hopeless. And I have to admit that they did learn. Some actually did learn their numbers and none of them, that's NONE of them stank at the end of the day. Sure times changed and I'd do it differently now - but the goals of that time are the goals of 'this' time - that people with disabilities be given the opportunity to learn and participate.

So daily we all went through the paces set for us. We kept track of progress in binders and even then the paperwork seemed daunting. I still remember faces. Linda, a deer sweet woman with Down Syndrome, who aged effortlessly and had the most gentle touch. She spoke words without a voice and would always smile when glanced at. She never got the numbers but she liked the puzzles. There was always a deep sadness in her eyes when she knew that she'd disappointed me with her progress. But the sadness never lasted long - she was, in her way, used to disappointing others with her mind so she made up to us with her heart.

But, this is about Glen. He just disappeared into the woodwork. He never stood out, never wanted to. He wasn't a behaviour problem. He was the kind of guy that, when you discovered one person missing and listed the group in your mind, you'd have to grasp for his name. He came, he participated, he went home.

But one day, it had been a very tiring numbers class. I wasn't in to it. Neither were any of them. So I gave up and we just chatted for the last fifteen minutes of the class. I sighed and said, more to myself than them, "It's been a long day." Glen responded seemingly without even thinking, "Yeah, the years go fast, it's the days that take a long time."

That little bit of insight, let me say it right, that little bit of wisdom had me look at Glen really for the first time. There was someone inside Glen's body, someone inside Glen's mind. There WAS SOMEONE HOME. Then I looked at the whole class. And for an instant I had clarity. I could 'see' Linda - the woman who lived in her body. I could see Alice - really see her. All of them where there and present. They were always there, I just never saw them.

You know I've sat through entire classes given by lofty, degreed, professors and never heard anything approaching the profound simplicity of what Glen said. A lot of people have a lot of words and little to say. Wisdom gifts whomever she chooses, I've discovered.

But that day, the day when Glen revealed himself, I was to learn that in every single human being, there is always someone home - you've just got to knock. This was for me the beginning of the very long journey towards wisdom.


Belinda said...

Another bit of wisdom from a friend of mine:"Forget about the past and think about the pleasant." Who is the teacher?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. Makes me think of Amanda Bagg's "Being an Unperson" video at