My senior summer was coming to a close. I had done some volunteering in the past but nothing was quite like my experience at Redwood.
I found my room and sheepishly opened the child-safe lock. I entered. Suddenly I was back in kindergarten. The ceiling was lined with plastic mobiles, and children were attacking an enormous pile of toys. That’s when I noticed him. The metal braces fixed to his legs shined in the light and his plastic heel guards were brightly animated with cartoon characters. His back was down, and he was enthusiastically smacking a plastic contraption held with his mouth.
‘Who is that boy,’ I asked a teacher.
“O, that’s Patrick.”
‘Is it safe for him to chew on that?’
She tried to smile and almost began to whisper.
“Patrick is blind, deaf and because he’s partially paralyzed, he has to manipulate the toys so he can play with them.”
I was stunned into silence. I half-heartedly nodded and felt like I didn’t belong in the room. I couldn’t take my eyes off Patrick. I knew of blindness, muscular atrophy and deafness, but never had the three been so hideously intertwined. I felt sick. Quickly I averted my eyes. I wondered how utterly destitute Patrick was to never be able to see a setting sun or hear an opera.
I saw him again out of the corner of my eye. This time he was slapping his toy with even harder force than before as it dangled from his half open mouth. I walked towards him. He didn’t notice when I sat down. Suddenly, he rolled on his stomach and began to crawl, unwittingly placing his hand down upon mine. He stopped. The toy fell from his mouth and his face turned. His hands slowly ascended as my torso became the object of his curiosity. Like a person feeling his way through a darkened house, Patrick examined my hands, face, and hair. It was strange at first, but I resisted backing away. I sat completely still until he was satisfied.
Patrick retreated to a corner of the carpet. I followed him there and became completely absorbed in his actions. He lifted a box and buried his face within. I gently tapped the box with my finger and watched as he stopped and tapped back. I then tapped twice and watched Patrick’s excitement grow as he began to bang the box and squirm with enthusiasm. We continued until lunch. By then my arm had grown tired.
I left after lunch, but I wasn’t the same. I think it’s unfair he’ll never be given the opportunity to speak to others, or be called upon by his teacher. I believe Patrick is endowed that right as much as any other child is.
Well Patrick, this is your turn. Patrick, unable to walk, yet we ran, unable to hear, yet I heard your voice loud and clear, blind, yet you made see what was so precious and beautiful in my life. Thank you.
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