As we sat on the chairs yesterday my friend had a chuckle. Some of you will recognise the character I am writing about, I told him I was going to write something about him, he was chuffed, all good I hope he said, I assured him it was. I’ll call him Jack.
I have known Jack for 35 years, I was friends with his brother at school, and sometimes visited his home. They were a pretty average family, however Jack was different. Jack has an intellectual disability, he can’t read/ write and he knows the value of money only by the colour of the notes. Two green ones he would say when I asked him how much it cost for him to go fishing. I have a lot of admiration for Jack and his journey. I remember trying to teach him how to read, I am somewhat embarrassed about my assumptions and ignorance at the age of 20, jack just doesn’t have the capability to read or write, that is how it is.
Jack gets up every day and goes to work, not sheltered workshop stuff, but real work for a real company. He drives a car, I asked him how he knows who to give way to and he bellows his laughter and says everybody! He has a beeper that tells him when he goes over 50 kmh and over 100. He once got a new car and took it out to see how fast it would go, I asked him how fast did he get to? He laughed and said enough to lose his license, how did you know that? With his characteristic laugh he said the Policeman told him,” he wasn’t very pleased “said Jack I can tell you that!
Well I hadn’t seen Jack for a while and I caught up with him the other week, said pop around. Jack got married recently, he can’t tell you when but it was in the last year. As we shared cup of tea he was telling me about the joys of married life. You see Jack had often wondered if he would ever get married, He had a number of companions over the years, I remember fondly one of them, a beautiful woman, always smiling, like Jack an intellectual disability. Anyway she got unwell and passed away a number of years ago.
Jack needs protection, he is fortunate to live in a small town. I know I have bemoaned at length about small towns but this is one of the good things. This wonderful man can live a relatively independent life because of the good will of many people over a long period. Here are a few examples. He goes to the supermarket and asks how much is that, the operators will tell him and he just hands over a wad of cash. Generally someone there knows him and they watch as the operator counts the money and gives him his change, it would be easy to rip him off but not in Morrinsville. There are people who help look after his money, his health, his welfare and now his marriage.
The reason we were chuckling was that David had said it comes in quite handy being married you know. His wife cooks dinner for him and sometimes makes his lunch he said. They do things together and they do things apart as well. Jack said I feel like I belong, I don’t get lonely anymore. We discuss things and make decisions. What a fantastic narrative for them. The beauty of this is that attitudes have changed so much over the last 30 years. I am sure that there have been other opportunities for Jack to be married (in fact I know) but protective instincts from families have got in the way. I remember someone saying he should just be happy, he doesn’t need the responsibility. I said “have you asked him what he thinks”? You see Jack has agency he has the ability to make decisions and he knows there are risks involved in those decisions. We as a community have an obligation to protect him as much as we can but also an obligation to provide him the safest way to explore his agency. He deserves the same opportunity for happiness as everyone else.
Sometimes I almost envy Jack, his life is pretty simple, he likes his job, he can never overspend, his needs and wants are simple and able to be expressed in a simple way. I have never heard anyone judge him in any way or form and he has good friends. He had a Bucks night, his friends tied him up and got him a little drunk as well, we laughed our heads off about that, but the fact that he had friends who love him enough to experience the same things in life and respect him enough to enable him to experience that is amazing. I know that Jack is not seen as a threat to society and I understand that it is relatively easy to be his friend, he has no guile, no ulterior motives and in my experience is completely trustworthy, a bloody good kiwi bloke and now he is married!
Here I am tapping at me keys, reflecting on my life, a quiet drink at the private bar with my Dad the night before I got married. I don’t complain about that it was precious, however no one organised a bucks night for me. I am often seen as a threat to people, I challenge their thinking attitudes and isms, there stereotypes, prejudices and beliefs, I do it for a living and I live it in my own life. Before anyone says you are a good man (vomit, I know the things I think and the things I don’t do that I should) I want to say it is almost like I don’t have a choice. Catholic guilt, nurture, belief systems, I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. It is who I am, like Popeye I yam what I yam. What I want to say is that I am no better than Jack who impacts the world in his own way. Jack is a man whom I admire and respect, and all the other people who enable his life. If you are one of those people who have people like Jack in your life then I say thank you. To all the other out there who in their own way understand and identify with this post I want to say that I understand it is a burden at times, a never ending responsibility almost. It has its own reward, and that is nothing that can be bought or taken away from you.