A friend recently died, and I’ve been thinking a lot about him and the life he led. He was a kind and thoughtful person who loved people. He relished being included in social activities, and he especially loved to dance. This individual had a great sense of humor and was quick to laugh. He had many hobbies that he pursued and shared with others. He was well-liked by those around him, and he had a family that loved him. It seemed that, in all the important ways, he thoroughly enjoyed his life.
However, some people did not understand how that could be possible. Instead of seeing this person for who he was, they only saw his developmental disability. They focused on the thick glasses and the shuffling gait. They were put off by his speech disorder which made it difficult for him to be understood unless you gave him your undivided attention. Something most people were unwilling to do.
Unfortunately, my friend grew up in a time when individuals with intellectual challenges did not receive the level of services that are offered now. But despite that fact, he made it through the education system of the day and eventually found employment. That is where I met him.
He held that job for more than fifteen years until his health began to fail. During his employment, he learned several different skills and held a variety of positions. Because he received the proper training and support, he was successful at all of them.
I had the pleasure of working with him for more than a decade and when he passed away, I could not help but wonder if others would think that my friend had led a “meaningful life”.
I suppose that would depend on a person’s definition of that phrase.
Does it mean the accumulation of wealth or possessions? Does it mean winning acclaim for noteworthy success? Does it mean having a career with an important title beside your name? Does it mean having an obituary filled with achievements that others envy?
Many people live their lives in pursuit of those very things. And they hope that, in the end, people will be impressed by all they accomplished.
However, none of those things applied to my friend – and yet his life mattered just as much as any other person’s.
To me, it was the way he lived that was impressive. He possessed uncommon decency that had a way of making people feel good. He was a positive, happy person that others enjoyed being around. In all of the time I knew him, he was never mean to anyone, he never hurt anyone, and he was never unkind.
Perhaps my friend’s most admirable quality was that he didn’t judge other people. But, unfortunately, he did not receive the same treatment in return. He continually faced judgment based solely on his appearance, his physical movements, and his speech. Of course, none of those characteristics had anything to do with the type of person he was. They did not reveal his personality, his spirit or his humanity.
Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter if you lived a life of power, prestige, or privilege. What really matters are the lives you touched.
That is certainly true regarding my friend. Knowing him made my life better, and I’m thankful that I had the chance to share so many years with him.
Although this unassuming man is gone, he continues to live on in the memories of those who cared about him and who, in return, were blessed because they received his affection.
While it might appear to some that he led a quiet, uneventful life, my friend was actually a remarkable individual who never wanted anything from a person but their friendship. And although he was often disappointed, he never lost hope that people would treat him the way he treated others.
I don’t think that was too much to ask.