Every weekday morning, shortly after I have opened my office door and turned my computer on, I walk down the hallway to the supply room to make myself a cup of coffee. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, AJ and Annette are always sitting at the table just outside the supply room, she reading the newspaper, eating a snack, he strapped into his wheelchair, chatting with her. AJ has trouble speaking. He speaks very loudly, and I had heard his voice quite a lot as it carried down the hall to my office. I could never understand what he was saying, but I think this was because I walked by too fast or did not listen long enough because I would see Annette watching his face and nodding her head as she spoke with AJ, engaged and in complete comprehension.
Annette takes exceptional care of AJ. She wheels him to his class before it starts, picks him up when it ends, feeds him his lunch, wheels him to the library, and chats with him between his classes. They seem to have quite a friendship and it is beautiful to watch. One fine autumn day the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the air was fresh. As I walked to another building for one of my classes, I spotted the two of them. She was sitting on a bench overlooking a pond and AJ was pulled up close to her in his wheelchair. Annette was spoon feeding AJ his lunch. I find myself wondering if AJ’s mother knows how well her son is looked after. I guess because I am a mother I have those thoughts.
I can pretty much see AJ’s problems. He does not have control of his arms and legs, so they are strapped down in his wheelchair. I suspect that he also does not have control of his tongue, which accounts for his difficulty in articulating sounds. One cannot walk by AJ without admiring him. With all his limitations, with all his struggles, he gets up and gets on with it each day.
Nobody can see my problems. Sometimes I wish my problems were as visible as AJ’s. Perhaps then people would be kinder, more forgiving, more gentle with me. Perhaps I would even have an Annette who completely understood my burdens and stayed beside me all day. But when I take a long honest look at the students coming and going on my community college campus, I understand that I am not the only one with invisible problems. And with all our limitations, with all our struggles, we all get up and get on with it each day.
I have AJ and Annette to thank for this lesson. So one morning last week on my march to the coffee pot, I presented them each with a bar of chocolate. Annette sweetly thanked me. Then, as clear as a church bell, AJ belted out “God Bless You”.
God Bless us all.