When I was fresh out of college, a young "Master of the Universe" ready to take on the financial world, a friend introduced me to a special group of people.
Orchard Village is an independent living community for developmentally disabled adults outside of Chicago. I volunteered initially at a social event before taking time to regularly visit one of the residents.
Ron was a stocky, mild mannered man in his mid 50s. He wore thick glasses and had a nice head of hair. Looking back now, in my 40's with thinning hair, a nice head of hair stands out. I was introduced to him in the meeting room before we were left to talk.
Ron had a nice smile but was quiet at first. We talked about his room in the house, his love of the Cubs (in later visits he brought his mitt and we played catch). But after a handful of visits I was left wondering, what's next?
It was then that the director had an idea. "Ron loves to listen to books," she said, "but can't read. Maybe you can work with him."
The next time Ron and I sat down at the table, book in his hand. He flipped the pages as I chose a few letters to sound out with him. He smiled as I stressed sounds like "Buh, Buh" or "Muh muh." He was frustrated at times, times I sensed he felt like a man looking out at the ocean with only a paddle. But he listened as I read to him. Then he sounded letters out. Repeat.
Our visits took place once a week for several months. I felt like he was making some progress identifying letters and sounding them out. He eventually could, with prompting, say words like cat and dog.
One afternoon I got a call at the office. The director wanted me to know that Ron had excitedly shown her one of his books and proudly sounded out several random, jumbled words. My eyes welled up.
In the early 1990's, before I had kids, Ron kept me grounded. To see someone so excited over identifying a handful of words was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. Ron had the same look as my own children, the youngest of whom, now 3, is just started to identify letters.
I have not seen Ron in over 20 years. He may no longer be with us. But he is with me. He helped teach me the value of the simplest gesture; and how the investment of time pays the greatest dividends.
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Filed under: Family