I told you about my friend Aimie last week– she’s super awesome. And now you know. The thing she invited me to last week was also awesome. So awesome that I decided it really required it’s own post.
The event was part of a campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. The word they’re talking about? The R-word. It’s not cool to say, it’s not fun to use, and it doesn’t make for good jokes. The end.
Before the killer puppet show (don’t worry, I’ll tell you about the puppet show), a man named Jason got up and told us his story– his moment of realization about the R-word. And this is what he said (huge thanks to Aimie for getting this for me… truly, she’s awesome).
A few days ago I heard a joke that made me laugh. Actually it has made me laugh every time I have heard it (at least 50 times since grade school). The joke is “whats better that winning a gold medal at the Special Olympics? Answer: not being ret**ded” WAIT! keep reading. I am certainly not evil it has just been funny since I was a kid because of how bad it is BUT before you judge me….trust me, if that joke offended you and you enjoy sweet sweet justice…then read on. I went to the YMCA today after being quite ill with the seasons newest ailments. I somehow mustered up enough drive ( with minor remanents of bronchitis I think) to do 15 minutes of Battle ropes, a full 45 minute upper body weight training routine and 5 inclined miles on a treadmill (if you have ever seen a fire hydrant run for it’s life then you would know just what accomplishment that is for me). Feeling pretty darn good about myself I headed to the locker room. I first called my wife to boast of my accomplishments…and to give a small warning that I might pass out if I don’t sit down for awhile. I told her of my plan to take a breather and then sit in the hot tub for 5 minutes. We laughed about my lack of fitness and probability of impending embarrassment of having to be fished out the YMCA hot tub. Now off the phone and ready to relax I walked into the pool area. It was much louder than usual and there seemed to be A LOT of people in the pool for that hour. In the hot tub sat a single young man keeping to himself. I normally don’t engage the “tub sitters” when I am there, I’m just not that kind of guy. I get this odd sense of relief when the person in there is around my age and quiet. I walked down into the tub and what happened next was so unbelievable that I am taking the time to write about it here. No sooner than the water hitting my waistline the man stood up move towards me with serious sense of urgency and commitment. With his right wrist anchored on his belly he extended his hand out to me and in tone and volume that you would expect from the greatest circus ring leaders he belted ” HI MY NAME IS MATT! WHAT IS YOUR NAME!..I responded with “Hey Matt my name is Jason, nice to meet you”…in which he volleyed back “HI JASON, MY NAME IS MATT AND IT IS NICE TO MEET YOU…YES…NICE TO MEET YOU!”. The look in this young mans eyes during this remarkably animated salutation was nothing short of the most confident, endearing, genuinely inquisitive and caring look I may have ever seen. Just then a older man interrupted us and said okay Matt, back in the pool. He quickly acquiesced without any hesitation. Watching him return to the pool I then realized that the pool was full of people that required some additional attention and had unique personal challenges. Now I was alone in the hot tub watching. As I watched I literally felt my heart warm, warmer than the waters around me…so warm in fact it radiated to my face and made me smile. Now for the Amazing lesson part… I sat back for another moment by myself enjoying my appreciation for what was going on around me when it happened…It was one of those moments that I wish the whole world could experience. A young man in his late teens early twenties made his way down the stairs into the tub…now I recognize that look of supreme confidence and braced myself for the engagement I was about to have. He moved through the water quickly and with purpose. Sitting down in a hurry in the corner opposite of mine he immediately took notice of me and spoke out in a passionate tangent ” MY NAME IS PHIL, HAVE YOU HEARD OF ME?DID YOU HEAR I WENT TO STATE LAST YEAR?THERE WERE A COUPLE OF US THAT WENT TO STATE LAST YEAR?I’M SAVING THIS SPOT FOR MY FRIEND?WHATS YOUR NAME?…jason…HI JASON ..another person started to make there way into the tub… HEY THIS IS JASON..JASON THIS so and so…HE WENT TO STATE TOO..A COUPLE OF US DID …as he continued to speak the hot tube began to fill up to capacity…and Phil, one by one introduced me by name to each of them. He also told them where to all sit, where to stand and finally his friend arrived to take his place at the right hand of the GREAT STATE CHAMPION PHIL. Now the hot tub was literally filled to capacity with standing room only. I was surrounded by some of the happiest and content people I had ever had the pleasure of being around. I couldn’t help but smile as I heard them laughing and talking each other up with such sincerity and innocence. An older woman was standing outside of the tub watching this crew of AMAZINGLY CONFIDENT CHARACTERS with personalities that could fill the entire pool not to say much about the small hot tub. I had to ask… Excuse me miss…is this some type of group event are all of these amazing people from the same place and are you a volunteer? And with a smile she looked me straight in the eyes and said…yes I am a volunteer and these are the Marshfield Swimmers…The Special Olympics Swim Team. Phil stood up and announced it was TIME TO PLAY THE GAME WITH THE BALLS IN THE OTHER POOL and the tub cleared out as fast as it had filled. I was the last one to exit; meeting that woman at the top of the stairs. I had only one more question for her…where do I sign up to volunteer? She introduced me to the Team manager and quickly gathered all of the paperwork. She said last year they had 9 athletes and this year they have 16 so they can use all the help they can get! She was almost as excited as I was. She made a comment that I will never forget for as long as I live ” you know, they will look at you as a role model”..I let that responsibility settle in for a moment and responded “I think they are the ones that are the role models “…her and the manager both nodded. When I left with my paperwork in hand I sat in the car for a moment and just smiled. I could hear God laughing at me in enjoyment as if to say ” ohhh my little jug-head, you are too easy sometimes, a little inappropriate joke for the set up, a couple of my very special children for the delivery and BAM…life change….bet you wont laugh at that little stand up bit again will you?”. I know this is long post but I really felt compelled to share it here. I start next Tuesday and I cant wait…but, for those of you that know me I have to add one more thing…last year … 6 of the 9 athletes from Marshfield went to state. So as luck would have it…looks like I will be helping awesome people be awesomer! Thank you for reading and I hope it inspired you in some way.
The kids loved it Jason’s story. Naturally. And I was left grinning from ear to ear. It’s a big deal– to be able to change your mind, your outlook, your world-view because you realize that there’s a better way. Too cool!
And after that awesome story, some puppets told the rest!
Hairy and Company and their human friends told some stories, sang some songs, and made us all laugh and cheer. Aimie and I laughed especially heartily when we realized that someone had turned an awkward hybrid of our friend Michele and me into a puppet. A puppet named Dudley.
Dudley was shy at first, hesitant to even introduce himself to all of us. Then he did, “Hi! I’m Dudley! I have problems and I wrote a song about it!”
Hi, I’m Rachel! I have problems and I write a blog about it!
Oy, that was poignant 😉
But seriously, I was thrilled at the message these kids were getting. To be yourself, to respect others, to be ok with differences, because really, we’re all a little different in a lot of different ways. And they loved it! They sang the songs and danced and cheered for those crazy puppets. They clapped for Jason and yelled out responses to questions. It was so great!
And the biggest message? Mental capacity is just one tiny way in which we might be different from someone else. One. Of millions… billions… trillions even! So respect it, limited or not, and look for the things that make others special.
Spread the word, yo!