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.

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