Jan. 20, 2018

HIS NAME WAS BILL.

 

I am thankful for my memories of Bill. Because of Bill, I learned to fear-less and love-more.

Bill’s last name was Keith. He was very large and, to my young eyes, looked like a scary monster. Bill liked to yell and make grunting sounds as he chased the kids in the neighborhood. I was deathly afraid of Bill and seldom went outside, too afraid I would encounter him. He lived one block from me, in a large, two-story house at 24th and Linden Streets.

One morning, my father took my hand and insisted on walking me to Bill’s house. He believed it was unhealthy for me to fear anyone. Bill’s mother graciously invited us inside her home, which she operated as a boarding house---- her only means of support. She explained that Bill, her only child, was born with Mongolism (later renamed Down Syndrome).  After learning his son was a Mongoloid, Bill's father left his wife and first-born.... and never returned.

Bill's mother apologized for her son’s wild actions and overly-friendly behavior but, in spite of his eighteen year old body, he had the mind and disposition of a five year old child.

That experience was life-changing for me. Years later, when I entered the world of Special Education, I remembered Bill. How sad that most of us in the neighborhood feared him. If only we had known about Bill’s disability; if only we had understood that--- despite his size and his looks--- Bill was just a kid like us-- who wanted to play, have friends, and be part of the crowd.

The visit with Ms. Keith helped me see her son, Bill, as a person----not as a "thing." That day, I realized Bill's needs were no different than mine. Bill wanted what most-all of us want and need----love and acceptance. 

Please forgive me Bill, for my youthful ignorance.