Saturday, April 26, 2014

My Friend Daniel

Daniel is a dear friend.  We met four years ago at Misericordia, a campus of about 600 folks with mild to serious intellectual disabilities.  From the get go, the two of us bonded as long, lost friends who had so much to talk about.

As far as Daniel sees it, I can do no wrong.  I'm the "lovely Miss Jane" who is one of the funniest, most amusing (not to mention cutest) women he knows.  The minute I walk in the door of Room 201, there's Daniel waltzing up to wrap his arms around me in a big bear hug while saying my name over and over again. 

When I first started volunteering at Misericordia in 2010, I, along with all the other new volunteers, was advised to avoid physical contact with the residents.  I guess that meant no hugging and stuff --- just a handshake would do.

Well, give it up!  For a time, I tried to gently push Daniel and others away.  But in no time, that seemed not only silly but impossible.  There are many Wednesday afternoons when I'm greeted by what I like to think of as a wedding receiving line in which six or seven residents line up to give me a hug, shake my hand, even give me a quick peck on the cheek.  

The teacher in the class doesn't seem to mind; in fact, I've watched as a host of residents hug her, tease her, treat her as one of the "gals" whom they've come to love.

Two weeks ago, I attended Daniel's thirty-second (or what it his thirty-third?) birthday party at a restaurant in Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago.  I was one of 18 invitees that included his family, his staff, and the five other men, or housemates, who share a one-story ranch home about 15 minutes west of Misericordia.  I'd met Daniel's housemates before when I'd gone to interview him for a radio documentary, but this was the first time that I had seen them all outside of campus in a social situation.

When it was time to open his presents, Daniel stood up and remained standing while he ripped open every shred of wrapping paper and accompanying envelopes.  He was deliriously happy with every DVD, every piece of sports paraphernalia (pennants, a blanket, a throw rug, hats ___ enough to open a sports bar) and thanked everyone profusely for their thoughtfulness.

Daniel can't read very well, so his mom helped him with some of the cards.  But his joy at receiving, for example, a music card that, when opened, blasted an accordion practically jumping off the page was infectious.  Daniel screamed and yelled and clapped and made everyone there feel like the best and most ingenious person on the planet.

For me (always the center of his attention on Wednesdays when I volunteer), it was interesting to see him relate to some of his best friends and to his staff.  He lives with these folks every day (except when he's home on what is called "Home Visit") and loves them all dearly. 

And I love Daniel and the joy he has added to my life and the lessons he has taught me about what a difference differences make.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beginning of the End?

Okay, I know aging isn't, as my dad would say, "for sisses."  But, so far, I think I've done quite well.  My body parts are in tact and, as best as I know, not diseased.  Sure, my headaches are a pain but usually controllable by medication.  I still hear well, have strong teeth, have good eyesight (with my glasses), and so on down the line.

But Sunday changed my "Gee, you're in great shape" list.

I had a busy schedule.  First, a dance class, then an art opening, and, finally, a birthday party out in the burbs.  I drove my rental car (mine is in the shop) to dance and enjoyed a rousing class, even if the humidity signalling a rain storm caused a more pronounced sweat than usual.  I zipped home, bathed, changed, and drove down to Chicago's Old Town, an area of quaint, older homes and winding streets that seem to snake in multiple directions making confusion an operative word.  The photo show held in what is really a community center didn't show the photographer's work in the best light, but he's a friend and I stayed longer than what I had determined was enough time to drive all the way to a northern suburb.

Prior to the gallery opening, I'd parked my car on one of the main streets in Old Town.  I also looked up at the intersecting street signs to make sure I could find my car upon my return.

No such luck.  When I reached the spot, the car was nowhere to be seen.  Now, mind you:  The four-door, silver car looks like about 50 per cent of other cars on the road today and an overly abundant number of cars in Old Town, at least on this particular day.  Panicked, I raced up and down the adjoining streets, squeezing my key door opener every few minutes.  Nothing.  No rear light flashes.  No sound alarm.  Not a damn thing.

It started to rain.  Harder and harder.  Even my umbrella wasn't keeping me dry.  Baffled then extremely stressed, I must have looked completely lost because not one but two strangers stopped to ask if they could help.

It was useless.  My car was gone.  I didn't know the license plate number, and the amount of time I  had left to make it to the birthday party was quickly elapsing. 

I was in big trouble and, by this time, near tears.

So, this is what it's like to lose one's mind?  Was I on the verge of dementia?  Had all my enthusiasm about the state of my body and mind been a charade?

I had no alternative but to walk back to the gallery in shame where I would tell my husband that I'd lost the rental car and desperately needed his help to find it.

As I headed up the street, I pushed my key one last time.  Lights flashed.  And on a silver, 4-door that looked like "mine."  Quickly, I ran to the front door and peeked in.  I'd never been so happy to see a recognizable water bottle and a few paper wrappers. 

Soaked but relieved, I unlocked the door and jumped in.  Of course, I'd be at least 30 minutes late to the birthday party, but my host would understand.  And if she didn't, well there was nothing I could do about it.

I won't go in to detail about how I almost lost "my" car later in the evening after the party or how it took me extra time to find the correct exit out of the shopping court.  I'll leave that to your imagination and to my chagrin.