During my early teens I became acquainted with a man; we’ll call John, who taught me the power of words and the gift of adversity.
John sat perched outside of a drug store in his wheel chair selling pencils and the like. I recognized that he suffered from a severe case of cerebral palsy, like my Uncle, whom I loved dearly. John and I became casual friends, and when he saw me he would flash his distorted smile, and his body would jerk in spasmodic motions attempting to wave. He had a light in his eyes, and an enthusiasm for life that I admired. He did not hide behind his difficulties in life; he made every attempt to be independent, and to greet the world with a healthy dose of confidence.
Our conversations were a bit one sided and embarrassing for me, because I understood little of what John said. I would respond however, as if I understood every word when he knew that I didn’t. In retrospect, I imagine he had learned a great deal of patience with this process, because his speech was largely unintelligible. There was one visit that John greeted me with an exaggerated enthusiasm. He kept saying something and looking down at his shirt pocket. Soon his arm was flailing back and forth, beating on his chest in an exhaustive attempt to get something. There, just peeking out of his pocket I saw the corner of a piece of paper. I finally asked if I could help him and did. He smiled a brilliant smile, and I think he said, “This is for you”.
There before my eyes, was the better part of a typed single spaced page, just for me. I read but a few lines before my eyes welled with tears of gratitude for his momentous effort and the beauty of that which I read. I said thank you, gave him a hug and excused myself to hide in the car. There I sat and read the English language as I had never read it before. It was a simple letter of gratitude, written with an elegance that one rarely sees accept by masters such as Tennison or Yeates. I was spellbound by the rhythm of his writing, smooth like a feather on the breeze, that rides the currents slowly, softly, this way and that, taking lilting dips and turns, to finally, quietly, descend and light upon the earth after a perfect journey. Such was his letter, which memory still conjures vivid emotions in my soul today.
Here was a man whom I thought burdened by his adversity. It didn’t really afford him a voice with which to speak, and to be understood. But from within his confines, developed an exquisite gift of written language and an indomitable spirit of gratitude. His afflictions became his impetus and a blessing to anyone who took but a few moments to say hello. This I believe.