Thursday, September 16, 2010

Getting Out of Myself

The perfect antidote to writing a memoir with so much focus on oneself is to spend some time, however limited, with others who appreciate your undivided attention.

In that spirit, I started volunteering at Misericordia, a home for people with mild to severe developmental disabilities, many with physical challenges as well. "My" class has turned me inside out. They are SO challenged but, in most cases, SO loving and open and, yes, SO happy.

Confidentiality prevents me from using any personal photos and real names. So I will use first-name aliases and give you a quick overview.

* Stan - Stan has Down Syndrome. From Day 1, he wanted to sit next to me because he figured out quickly that I could help him with his journal writing, a task he finds extremely difficult, not because he doesn't have ideas but because his spelling is at a first or second grade level. Like most people with Down Syndrome, his tongue is too big for his mouth. He constantly sticks out his tongue, as if gasping for breath, and the subsequent dribbling is inevitable. It took a few weeks for me to get beyond the dribbles and the chapped lips to appreciate Stan for his sense of humor and his kindness. It is now an unwritten rule that he sit next to me come "hell or high water."

* David - David talks a mile a minute, stuttering, mispronouncing words. But if you listen carefully, amid the gush of sounds are observations, facts, and feelings. David loves sports and knows his stuff. He gets very excited when talking about the TV channel on which a particular sporting event will be aired. David likes mystery. He can't wait to find out who the new "American Idol" judges will be or who will win a football game or the World Series. I'm a sports junkie, too. So, David and I have become fast buddies.

* Suzy - Suzy is one of the highest functioning young women in the group. She flies back and forth between Chicago and her hometown, sings in one of Misericordia's performance groups, and remembers things that many of the others forget. Suzy adores a particular Elvis impersonator; whenever she has the chance, she sits at the computer, headphones on, and watches the same You Tube videos over and over again. For the past two weeks, Suzy has told me that she loves me.

I look forward to my few hours at Misericordia. It some ways, it's like meditation. I get beyond the chatter of my own mind. I am focused on others who, for a short time every week, take me out of myself.

I recommend it to everyone!