It was about two years ago when Love Song popped into my head. I was riding home from a day at work and its familiar and catchy melody found its way into my consciousness. As soon as it came to me I knew it was a keeper, so I whipped out my phone and started recording what was later to be released as my first single.
I have a habit of being in strange places when melodies or lyrics come to me, and it is not uncommon for me to be riding my bike or off in dream land when I decide to grab my recording device and start singing into it.
That year I had been working at Variety Village (VV), an all abilities centre in the east end of Toronto. I normally worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the pool there, but when camps were in order I was sometimes asked to fill in as a sub. If I was free I would most often accept the offer as who doesn’t love running around playing games with kids all day, especially when those games include the likes of wheelchair basketball.
One day in mid March I was asked to help out for the day, and am I ever glad I accepted. That day became one of the biggest eyeopeners for me and a lasting memory of why I do what I do. It shifted me into another state of being entirely.
Over the course of my life almost all the jobs I’ve had have been related to helping, taking care of and working with people; swim instructor, babysitter, personal trainer, care giver, receptionist, yoga instructor, coach, care aid, the list goes on. I absolutely thrive in environments where I am able to use whatever skills or gifts I have to help improve the quality of someone else’s life. Boy was I surprised on this March day when the tables where turned.
Working at a place like VV from day one had been a real slice of life. I don’t think anyone leaves that place without some internal shift happening. When entering the ‘real world’ after being in a place of ultimate inclusion and community like VV, it gives one pause as to why we are not more integrated as a society and as people.
Working with people diagnosed and labeled as having ‘disabilities’ was not a new thing for me. My exposure to how ‘other half’ lives was not extensive, but it was more than most. This was my second time round at VV as I had done a few months of volunteer work there in high school and in Vancouver (during my university years) I had worked in group homes as a relief worker for youth and adults. From these experiences, I’d realized some of my greatest teachings and lessons in communication came from working with people that are virtually cut out of society. I always felt free from judgement of self and others when working with people under the umbrella of ‘special needs’. I often sought out the solace of these communities, because they provided learning beyond my own existence. Similar to travelling, these experiences allowed for much perspective.
At VV it was very much this way, and perhaps this is why I had such an incredible experience with one young boy. Perhaps it was the openness of this community that allowed me to be open in my experiences with others.
Camps opened up in the gym with big foam structures for everyone to play on as the group arrived and assembled. I would find myself chasing each of them over, under, and around the variously shaped pieces of foam. One kid in particular stood out to me. His smile shone bright and spoke volumes beyond words. He was non verbal and I was told he had something called fragile x syndrome. A diagnosis that effects young boys more than girls due to the fact that they only have one x chromosome. “It results in a spectrum of intellectual disabilities ranging from mild to severe as well as physical characteristics such as an elongated face, large or protruding ears, and behavioural characteristics such as stereotypic movements (e.g. hand-flapping), and social anxiety.” – For more info click here
What struck me about this little guy was that even though he could not form words to make a sentence, his ability to draw you in and ‘speak’ to you was out of this world. I very quickly became totally captivated by him and spent the rest of my day under his spell. Of course I had to be attentive to the other kids that day, but I found myself chasing him all over and making him laugh. In turn I was laughing and vibrating on a frequency I had never experienced before.
Having worked with kids since the age of 10 (a mere kid myself), I had come to learn that I have just as much to learn from them as they possibly could have to learn from me. Teaching is like a swivel door, where information passes both ways. Often children do not have the same filter as adults and their expression is much less inhibited. He definitely was one of such kids.
A difference in his x chromosome, may have made it more difficult for him to do what comes easily to some, but it sure had no effect on his ability to give and receive love. We laughed and played all day. He was very much present with his surroundings and the people in it, and he knew how to work them to his benefit. I remember at lunch time he had gotten his hands on another kids lunch money and convinced me to get him some m and m’s. We didn’t realize till later what had actually happened, and my boss and I had a good laugh about it. I also remember being convinced to read him books. He would climb up on my lap and draw me into his world. There may even have been a time when he had disappeared to go collect books from the front desk. This was a kid with a huge imagination, and an even bigger heart to share with the people in his presence.
Prior to this day he did not know me and I did not know him, but boy oh boy did I learn how easy it can be to give and receive love, if we are simply open to it. I remember biking home and feeling totally elated. I had had such an uplifting day, because of moments shared with this one little kid. That is when I started humming Love Song.
I have always believed that when we are born with an ability in one area it leaves us lacking in another. I don’t really believe that any of us are fully ‘able’ and therefore all of us are disabled in some way or another. Some disabilities we can see under a microscope or with the human eye, some we cannot see at all, and some we work very hard at covering up. But I think why focus on that with which we do not have. Let us focus on the gifts that make us who we are and the strengths that allow us to shine brighter than the rest.
I can’t really express in words what I learned from this little person. I think in fact if I tried it might sell it very short. The song helped in my translation of what I felt that day, a feeling close to that of feeling whole, feeling seen, feeling at peace with oneself, and most of all feeling loved. It is such sweetness. It’s the purest of emotional states that could possibly exist…and that’s why there AIN’T NOTHIN’ LIKE…