Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

It has been said that people enter your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

Whatever the case, I am learning that it's really all about love.

Right now I’m reading a book called In the Meantime, by Iyanla Vanzant.

In the book, she talks about a woman named Luanne Bellarts, who was born with cerebral palsy. She was a living illustration of love. Over the span of her lifetime, she taught others about the real meaning of love, faith, and trust by writing Bird with a Broken Wing—which is her life story.

She wrote it with her big toe, which was her only working appendage.

What is it about people born with certain “handicaps” seem to have a much firmer grasp on what faith is really about? Why does it work that way?

A Reason
In pondering these questions, my mind immediately flooded back to my time as a teacher for autistic kids. I taught in a special autism school that had build residences in differing neighborhoods near the school, so the kids transitioned from home to school, and back again at the end of the day.

My case student was named Greg.

I’ve never spoken of him in this blog before, but I still think about Greg and some of the other students often.

Special kids like Greg have a way of seeing right through bullshit.

Below, I’ve included an exerpt of the biography I wrote on a webpage I created for him back in 2000:
Gregory Dean McKinnon – April 30, 1982-July 10, 2000  
Gregory Dean McKinnon was born on April 30, 1982. He grew up in a small town in New Hampshire called Goffstown amongst a large network of family and friends.
 In his 18 short years Greg managed to touch the lives of so many people. Even with complications such as Cerebral Palsy, mental retardation, and behavior problems, Greg faced challenges with his head held high in the air—often we'd forget he even had disabilities because that kid could make you laugh without saying a word.
 Gregory grew up in a warm and incredible family—Mom, Dad, and 3 brothers (Ben, Chris, and Adam). Members of his family touch the lives of everyone they meet with their unconditional love. They have great respect for each other and those around them, and that showed every day in Greg. Greg made you feel special when you walked in the room—he’d glance up, see you, and instantly start laughing. Often he'd get up and walk over to you to get a hug or touch your arm—anything just to say hello.
 Greg was a very social young man.  He loved to stop and chat with friends in the hallway, and he liked making new friends too.  Even though Greg couldn't speak—he could convey so much with his gestures, his smile, and his contagious laugh.
  Greg really knew how to get what he wanted, using humor and persistence!  He was very good at reading people and figuring them out—and subsequently finding just the right persuasive tactics to get what he wanted (in other words... he had us wrapped around his little finger!).
  Everyone who was at all acquainted with Greg consistently noted his contagious laughter, his warm smile, social nature, and big welcoming brown eyes... but especially his laugh and his intrinsic ability to make other people laugh.  He was more talented than any stand-up comedian at drawing genuine laughter out of someone who likely needed a good guffaw.
  Greg passed away on Sunday evening, July 10, 2000, while he was sleeping at his school's sponsored residence on West Hill Road.  His body is gone, and those who knew his challenges walking believe he can now run and jump in the clouds—but I believe he watches over his loved ones and his soul lives within everyone's life he touched (that's a lot of people).  He's got his place among the stars, and I'm sure it's a front row seat, with an endless supply of Auto Hunter magazines, chocolate bars, hot dogs, and soda.
  We miss him.

(As a side note: it does strike me as strange that I would think about Greg, and talk about him in this blog, on the 11th anniversary of his passing.)

I was technically Greg’s teacher, but he was placed in my life for a reason:

He taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.

Teaching severe special needs children is one of the most difficult jobs out there.  If it's in your blood, you just do it and you're happy doing it.  If it's not in your blood—you find out quickly, you burn out, you leave the field.  I realized at one point that severe special needs was not quite the place I needed to be.  But, until I came to terms with that realization and I started to act on it by seeking another line of work—I did the best I could.  And Greg really helped me "keep it real."  His smile, his laugh, his silly and loving nature really helped me.  Every single day.  Even with the challenges that he presented to staff and family, he knew when I needed a good laugh and he could always make me smile.  Greg had so many gifts and he gave so much love.  That is why it was so hard to lose him.

I did everything I could do to hide back in those days. I wore mens clothes that were too big, I didn’t take care of myself, I wasn’t good with eye contact, and I rarely talked about feelings, or anything real or meaningful.

Greg didn’t care. He could see right through me, from the moment we met. And he really could make me feel special. When I walked into a room he was in, he stood up, started laughing and smiling, and inevitably walked over to give me a hug.

There were times when I confided in him, when no one else was around to listen. I told him when I was having a bad day. A lot of the time, if he was in a bad mood, and I told him that I was feeling sad, or having a hard day… he would actually turn his behavior around and do whatever he could to make me laugh.

That kid loved me. Unconditionally. He was a beautiful, pure illustration of unconditional love. He understood what I needed, and he did the best he could do to help me feel better.

By the same token, he taught me something I never expected: tough love.

He was a difficult kid when it came to shaving his face. He had a lot of very thick hair, so he had to be shaved pretty often. And, of course, it was his caseworker’s job.

Greg would do whatever he could to try and manipulate me so that he could get out of shaving. It never worked, of course, because I knew that if I didn’t get it done one day, I would be stuck with the task the very next day.

I had to stand up to him, but in a loving way—not a cruel or mean way. I had never done that before, with anyone… and he taught me how to do it, without either of us realizing what was going on.

I also learned what it means to give unconditional love. Greg could feel when I wasn’t being genuine, or when I was trying to manipulate him, and he never once fell for it.

That kid knew me better than many of the people I had called friends in my past ever had. At the time, he even knew me better than my own family knew me.

I think about Greg anytime I need to remember what unconditional love should feel like.

And then, I look at myself, and ask myself how I can better love myself unconditionally, because as I now know… love begins with me.

A Season
I spent some time with a man recently who I now realize was in my life for a reason, yes—but during this strange season of my life.

The gift he gave me was tenderness.

And I realized that over the years, I have looked everywhere for tenderness, intimacy, and deep connection. (Everywhere but within, of course.)

What I’ve learned is that when I am seeking something from another person, it is something I am really searching for within me.

And that man reminded me of what tenderness felt like, and sometimes, that’s all we need—a reminder.

I was in a funk most of yesterday, and I didn’t understand why until late last night. All it took was a very simple yet profound phrase in an email I got earlier in the evening, about inner light attracting someone on the same frequency, to make me realize that I’ve been seeking nothing from others, but also nothing from myself.

In other words—in some pretty significant ways, I’ve been coasting.

While I haven’t been looking for others to fill me up, or fill my needs—I also haven’t been looking within. I’ve allowed myself to get so caught up in work and meeting new people that I haven’t slowed down long enough to be still and see what’s really there.

In the past, I was afraid of the stillness, because it often meant I sank into depression.

And while I have embraced my fearlessness in almost all realms, I think some of that fear still lingers in the quiet crevices of my mind and heart…

But the interesting thing is that despite the walls I’ve recently hit with meeting new people, I am standing strong with who I am. It’s nothing against me or my self-worth if someone chooses not to hang out with me, and I am choosing, time and time again, to remain open.

A Lifetime
I am here for me
And while there are certain folks who I know are in my heart for a lifetime—a few very close friends, my family, and God—there’s one person I am only just now starting to really count on... She comes through for me, every time, through thick and thin. She’s been here for me time and time again, even when I didn’t think it possible… even when I didn’t think she was looking.

And she’s here for me now. All I have to do is stop shutting her out in my time of need, which is the time she wants to be here for me the most.

Just like God, all I have to do is let her in... let her be here. 

All I have to do is let my light shine, even when I can't define exactly what that means. Maybe even especially when I can't define exactly what that means.

And she is someone I need, and will continue to need, for the rest of my life.

I am thankful to finally be here, present and in the moment… just for me.

Truly, I am learning to lead with love...

And that love begins with me.

1 comment: