Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Whales Are In Danger!

Morris doesn't have Downs Syndrome. His diagnosis states he has this disability, but with all due respect to his mother, doctors, grandmother, and late father, the rest of us have Downs Syndrome and Morris is the "normal" one.

He graduated from high school in 2005 after turning eighteen, but will continue his education until he is twenty-two. He participates daily in a non-paid work program. I see him frequently in the morning getting on the yellow short school bus to be transported to a burger place one week and perhaps a grocery store the next week, and then maybe to wrap eating utensils at a pizza place the next week. He often says his favorite work places are the restaurants. His favorite food is chicken. The fondness and capacity he has for the Kentucky Colonel's creation, extra crispy, is astounding. Perhaps there is a research study somewhere attempting to discover the allure that chicken has for some people with disabilities? Regardless, he loves his chicken.

What he doesn't love is anyone with a disability. He does not like to associate with "them". Many times he has told me he does not have a disability he's buff. All 5' 2", 273 pounds, black hair, muscle shirt, and sagging pants, buff. The only time he seems to overcome another's disability is when a young lady in his class or work program becomes his girlfriend. He is a buff ladies man with frequent girlfriends. Not the going out on date type girlfriend, but the standing on the school sidewalk before lunch waiting on them, then chasing behind when they don't stop on the way to the cafeteria.

For the most part our conversations go like this;
"Good morning, Morris."
"Good," he replies.
There was a time when he was assigned to my classroom for a brief two week period for the whole school day. He had assignments from other teachers to work on during the day. However, the only assignments he would attempt were math. Probably because he got to use plastic checkers to count.
"Morris, what is six minus three?" With a box of checkers dumped on the table in front of him he would separate six of them. Then he began taking one away at a time until he had the answer.
"Three..................." and so on regardless of the the problem being solved. This loud counting went on for three periods each morning. Over and over and over and................................

Then lunch time came. His internal clock went off each morning at 11:15 A.M. "It's time for lunch." The excitement in his voice was undeniable. At that announcement he took out his insulated lunch bag from his wheeled book bag. The only thing he ever transported in this book bag was his lunch.

After opening the lunch bag he carefully laid out his lunch in the following order on the table;
Chicken sandwich
Fruit cup
Two cookies
A carton of milk
Two bite size candy bars.

I remember as a child my mother telling me to chew each bite 32 times for good digestion. Morris was not counting, but he intently stared at his sandwich after each bite while chewing a certain number of times. This went on until his lunch was consumed and washed down with the milk. Then he returned to his assignment;

There was a time, right out of college, when I was surely in the "Save The Whales" mode of education. I and my classmates were going to change the academic world by enlightening each and every student. I must have a small piece of that remaining deep inside. From time to time I know I'm going to make a difference in Morris' life. The latest time came during one of his sidewalk waits for a current girlfriend. I was returning to my portable classroom and could not help but pass him. He didn't look in my direction as I passed so intent was he on waiting for a girl.

"Hello Morris."
"Good," he said.
"That's not the appropriate answer, Morris. When someone says hello you should reply, Hello Mr. Best."
He looked at me through his glasses and with extreme lucidity he said, "What if it ain't you?"

With all due respect to his mother, doctors, grandmother, and late father, the rest of us have Downs Syndrome and Morris is the "normal" one. In a flash of clarity I understood I had been put in my place and teaching was on a long lunch break.

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