Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Flowers for a friend

Arriving at the office on Monday morning, Bernadette and I met up in the parking lot, as we often do. I was coming to work; she was out for her morning stroll, heading up to visit Linda before going to catch the van run. We exchanged the usual pleasantries - "Beautiful morning, eh Bern?" "YES! It's supposed to rain tomorrow, though." (Alas, she speaks the truth.)

I noticed that, in her hand, she was clutching four fragrant and fully bloomed lilacs, picked, no doubt, from the tree outside her house. I commented on how pretty they were, and she informed me that she had picked them as a gift for Linda, so she could put them in a vase in her office. Sweet.

And that was the extent of our interaction. It was, certainly, a pretty ordinary exchange - small talk, flowers, off to see a friend. But that simple encounter has stayed with me ever since and I find myself returning to its lessons over and over. Bern has been living community life for almost 30 years. She has suffered and rejoiced and learned and grieved. And still, she picks flowers for a friend on a Monday morning. She is not too jaded or worn out or busy to recognize the beauty outside her door and be moved to share it with someone.

People are often inclined to compare our people, people with intellectual disabilities, to children. I immediately react - justifiably, I think - against this comparison, as it is disrespectful and misguided. But on Monday I was struck by how Bern's gesture was much like something my own 8-year-old daughter would do. And Bern's simple joy in the gesture was just like what Maggie would show when handing Mom her hand-picked bouquet.

So today I think it is okay to be grateful for the childlike values that Bernadette has managed to hold on to, in the face of all the reasons she has had to let them go.

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