Last week I discovered something I did not know before. I discovered a very pure form of joy and living life to the fullest extent. And my teacher was someone that many in the world have discounted and labeled. But I know now the secret that she holds and the lessons that you can learn when your heart is open and you see the human spirit and not the package it comes in.
I will tell you the whole story , It began when I met this young woman at the mental health office I worked in. She cleaned my office each evening as part of a cleaning crew. I loved running into her as she always had such a sweet spirit and her outlook on life was always upbeat. After a day of dealing with a lot of doom and gloom, this gal was the sunshine in my day. She cleaned better than anybody I have ever seen. She has an eye for detail that I envy! She often talked about her mother, and later I learned that her mother was one of my favorite co-workers. What a neat surprise!
Time passed on and the unit closed its doors; my friend was relocated to another position and I took employment elsewhere. But we always stayed in touch, having dinner together and shopping together on occasion. I always asked after her daughter who was always working hard and loving it. She had her own home in the same town as her mother and had a roommate to share the load of taking care of the house. None of this sounds even remotely remarkable does it? Well, read on.
As the economy has tanked, my friend's daughter had to move back home with her; the house payment and bills were just too much as her roommate had left; so they rented the house to a family and began living together again, as many families have had to do in this awful economy. But think about it, that is the way it used to be; families living all together and supporting each other in many ways. Children often had their parents and grandparents readily at hand, and things weren't so crazy then.
Anyway back to my story; my friend is in a wheelchair and gets around and does more than I do!!! And her daughter is working at two jobs; because she LOVES to work! Can you imagine that? And she would do more if she could get more to do. And she is always cheerful and happy about life; she spreads that joy around to everyone she meets. And that is how she, Rikki became my teacher.
Last week, my friend and I went out for a ride with Miss Rikki. I drove her car as it makes loading the chair easy; it has a lift on it which is the greatest thing ever! It wasn't so much what we did, it was doing it with Rikki. Everywhere we went, we talked and laughed and actually had fun doing much of nothing. We went on a hunt for a fruit smoothy with no dairy as Rikki really wanted one of these fruity drinks. We eventually found it at Sonic. But it was the atmosphere I found myself in that really brought out the joy in my heart. Rikki gave it to me, much like a gift. And it is the gift that I treasure as it opened my heart and mind in a new way.
As we shopped, I watched her interactions with strangers and saw something remarkable. When she spoke to people, they immediately had a smile cross their faces. I could see their body language open up and they became different for that brief interaction; there was a light that entered these people as they talked with her. No matter their mood, when she talked to them, they became happy and filled with a joy. It was amazing to watch. As we walked through the store together I also could feel myself getting lighter and happier.
Rikki loves Motown music and she found a CD while we were out and she bought it. On the way home, she sang every song and danced in the car without a care as to who might see her, or if she sang off key; she sang from her heart and it was beautiful. As she sang I could feel this sensation all through my body; a warmth and feeling of happiness that I haven't really felt before. It was as if a new spirit had entered me. I laughed and sang with her. I was driving or I would have danced in the car. Her mom sang and danced in the seat and for the ride home, we were just three girls having a whole lot of fun, a whole lot of joy.
Rikki is 42; she would want me to tell you that. She tells everybody, including me how proud she is to be 42! And that set me to thinking; age is just a stupid number that we use to quantify things. It really has no meaning other than to label people and give a reference point that maybe we really don't need. When I look at Rikki, it is hard to believe that she is 42; my daughter is 30 and that is equally hard to believe because both of these girls look so young. I am 48. That is my number. Nothing more. I feel like I am still a teenager. And I really don't care anymore who knows my age or my weight (282 lbs) my real hair color is pretty much grey, but me and the salon do a good job of keeping it blonde; which was never my "real " color either!
Letting go of that nonsense with the numbers was a Rikki lesson too. She would tell me in proud tones "I am as old as you are" I would laugh so hard ( Our birthdays are in the same month, July). And she just does not care about that number or her weight,hair color etc. She is just a genuine human being who lives life as it comes. She doesn't sit around worrying if people like her or if she is as good as others. She just loves and lives and gives to all. I am awestruck by the lessons I have learned from her. She does her work happily and cheerfully and at the end of the day she returns home to watch her favorite tv shows; Cosby and Golden Girls. She has a mad list of friends that she goes to dances and picnics with, and she loves their sweet Bailey doggie. He loves her too!
Why is this remarkable? Well to the outside world Rikki is "handicapped" I hate that word. I think she is differently abled; she sure has talents I don't possess and no one calls me "handicapped". Rikki has Downs Syndrome. Her mother was given all kinds of doom and gloom when she was born 42 years ago; but as usual the angels had something else in mind! Rikki is an angel disguised as a girl. I know this because I spend time with her and I see it. I know her mom would say she isn't perfect and has her days; but all in all she is what we all could be. I often think to myself, perhaps it is we, the so-called "normal"( hate that word too; it is a setting on the washer not a label for people!)ones that are "handicapped" and these individuals with Downs Syndrome and Mental Retardation and other developmental disabilities are the true human beings here. They put up with a whole lot of abuse and yet, if you look past the package, the outer shell, you will see the angels inside. I think God sent them here to encourage us to stop being so judgemental and uppity, to learn to really love without restriction and to value what we have, not what we don't. That is what Rikki taught me this past week. I just wanted to share my angel with all of you. Hope you find your angel!