Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same.
— Mother Teresa
Jeff: Artist. Hugger. Friend.

Jeff: Artist. Hugger. Friend.

Remember being a child and developing friendships in a matter of minutes? The huge impact of a simple hug or even a smile. The purity of finding jubilation in learning, dancing, or creating. We still have the capacity to be affected in such simple yet profound ways. We just need to be reminded.

Our reminder came in the form of a day spent with the wonderful people that participate in the Sage Senior Services program at Goodwill Columbus. Sage is a day service designed to empower people with developmental disabilities to live independently, while getting the most out of their lives. They have education programs, games, art programs (some of the art the participants create is breathtaking and can be seen here), singing, dancing, and most importantly, the friendship and community of each other.

The participants are immediately welcoming. Hugs abound. Questions about who you are, why you’re there, and where you’re from come immediately. And they’re not a formality or asked out of a commitment to social norms. They’re genuinely curious and engaged in this new interaction, this new person, and this new friend.

Making Seed Bombs with our new friends!

Making Seed Bombs with our new friends!

We spent Earth Day with our new friends, working on making games out of recycled materials, and getting our hands dirty while helping create flower seed spheres (or as we called them…the less delicately named flower bombs). Mixing clay, potting soil, and flower seeds, we made a fun and pliable substance that the participants could roll into balls, wrap in newspaper, and take with them or give to others so they could toss them in their yards or along roadsides to plant beautiful flowers. The sheer awe and excitement at the fact that these gray balls could become flowers was infectious. The participants wanted to know what kind of flowers, what colors, and when they would bloom. They were amazed. And, of course, it is amazing. It just takes some perspective to remember and appreciate that fact.

Hanging with Boo, Larry Legend, and Vicki

Hanging with Boo, Larry Legend, and Vicki

What took no adjustment in perspective to appreciate as astounding was working with Rocky. Rocky worked with a smile. Rocky worked tirelessly. His seed spheres were impressively uniform. He said nothing while he worked. At least not with words. You see, Rocky is blind and deaf. He experiences the world through touch, taste, and smell. His interpersonal communication relies almost entirely on contact and sign language. After creating 30 flower seed spheres with notable precision, he proudly loaded all his spheres in an egg carton.

I wanted to thank Rocky for all his work. Boo, the Health and Wellness Activities Coordinator, helped introduce me, allowing me to finger-sign my name in his hand. Rocky then lifted his fist, formed it into the sign language letter T, and gently placed it on each side of his chin. He indicated that this was the way he would know me. It was my name. A unique symbol that would be associated with me, and a priceless gift I'll never forget.

That simple gesture of friendship moved me to tears. Boo reassured me that this happens to her almost every day. She’s been doing this for over 20 years. She lives by her personal motto, "If it brings a smile to your heart, it will help you be well." Since she's the Health and Wellness Activities Coordinator, I'll defer to her expertise and accept that this must be true.

I was full of joy being able to thank Rocky for his work, and more than that, to thank him for the positive impact that he had.

Then there was Jeff, with his warm smile and sense of pride when he told me he knew how to read. Because of this, he knew that my shirt said “hug more,” which inspired him to come over and embrace me.

There was Paul, and his delight with dancing the Hokey Pokey. Ella Mae, and her excitement at moving into a new apartment with new furniture in her favorite color. Andrea, and her enthusiasm for, well, frankly everything. Jeff, and his calming nature, willing to help wherever he could.

So many other interactions were touching, beautiful, and pure. Without pretense. Just love, wonder, emotion, and joy.

Too often, we all find ourselves feeling sorry for those that don’t have the mental or physical capacities that we take for granted. But, they don’t need our sympathy. We’re the ones that have disassociated ourselves from imagination, compassion, and wonder, all in the name of pragmatism, professionalism, and the guarded interactions we accept as normal and necessary as we grow into adults.

What they do need is our friendship and love, and we desperately need theirs.