SADLY, PEOPLE WHO LOOK "DIFFERENT" ARE TOO-OFTEN---MISUNDERSTOOD.
I am thankful for my memories of Bill. Because of Bill, I've 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--so afraid-- I would encounter him. He lived one block from me in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in a large, two-story white 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 like I feared Bill.
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. In the fifties, children like Bill were referred to as Mongoloids, which---even then---sounded barbaric, heartless, and cruel. Today, Bill would be diagnosed with Down Syndrome--which has replaced the term-- Mongolism.
Ms. Keith 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. And, Bill didn’t see himself as different.
Time passed, Ms. Keith died, and her boarding house permanently-closed. I never knew what happened to Bill but, many years later, I learned--- his mother was his only family.
Sadly, those were the days when the "Bills of the world" were usually placed in asylums to live-out their days. For too many years, most medical experts considered anyone who "looked different" to also be mentally challenged. Unfortunately, this was an incorrect assumption.
That very-real and long-ago experience, was life-changing for me. Years later, when I entered the field of Special Education, I was often reminded of Bill. How sad that most of us in the neighborhood feared him. If only we had known more about Bill’s disability. If only we had understood that--- despite his size--- Bill was just a kid like us---a kid who wanted to play, have friends, be loved and--- be accepted.
The visit with Ms. Keith helped me see her son as a person----rather than a "thing." That day, I realized Bill Keith's need to be loved was no different than my own need for love. It's unfortunate we can't return to the past and correct many of our silly ideas, our hurtful mistakes. Too often--we simply lack the knowledge necessary about people who are born different.
Bill, I wish I could turn-back-time---- return to our old neighborhood--- find you and-- this time-- be the friend you so-desperately needed. Maybe--in my next life —I'll get a "second chance." Until then--- please forgive my youthful ignorance.