Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Richard: More Than Just a ¨Retard¨

The first time I met Richard was a moment not soon to be forgotten. Sprinting across the orphanage yard I feared what I was about to encounter as I approached my target: mischievous orphans at the moment obviously up to no good. Through my building anger and limited Spanish, a reoccurring reality at the orphanage was made clear to me yet again: there are just some moments you face where no amount of strength can prepare you for what you can´t believe you are witnessing.

On that day, it was the image of a severely mentally retarded child drowning if you can imagine it in the dirt he was being physically held down in, trying to cry but unable to because of the sheer amount of dirt that caked his face, covered his eyes, and had been shoved along with various pieces of trash into his mouth. In between the frantic movements and the spurts that could only be a failed attempt to cry, I struggled to see the humanity in the children that could do this.

After a moment of shock I disbanded the group of older, ¨more mentally competent" children that did this and picked up this child and took him inside to clean him up. I silently cursed the little brats who treatened to make my tears a routine part of visiting the orphanage, and at the same time, thanked God for delivering this retarded orphan who could easily be described as the most unloved of an already unwanted group into my direct attention.

Rest assured the next chapter of this ever unfolding story is actually a happy one.

Father Engh some weeks back suggested to be less preoccupied with the words that we speak or do not speak, and instead try and focus on the incredible ability in our human capacity to communicate and receive communication in spite of the language barrier that we at times suffocate ourselves with.

And that brings us to Richard. A good part of my time at the orphanage today was spent with Richard in my arms, running around to the other kids and telling them: ¨Quiero presentar mi mejor amigo... Entonces, chicos y chicas, por favor miran a Richard, el rey del mundo.¨ Translation: I want to present my best friend so boys and girls, please look at Richard, the king of the world! (at least that is what I hope I was saying...)I said that little speech over and over, every time with a bit more enthusiasm and excitment as for the first time little Richard through his giggles and smiles, actively was responding to what I was doing.

When I finally said goodbye for the day, a little retarded boy they always told me could not talk spoke volumes as he responded to my words of goodbye with the loudest of cries and struggling, he stumbled toward me with outstretched arms, and as I crouched down to look into his usually nonresponsive eyes, he starred intently back at me for a brief moment before wrapping his little arms around my neck, drawing himself closer to me, and giving me a kiss on the cheek.

Richard, the mentally retarded child has never once spoken a word to me. But today, he communicated something I never would have thought he had the ability to, if only because it is a task I have not been able to do myself: Today, Richard gave me back a bit of the self-worth and dignity I have felt void of, and while he might not be able to teach me the Spanish I am convinced will give me that self worth (imagine having the advanced thought process of a 23 year old adult but only being able to speak like a 5 year old child and you might get a feel for why self worth is such a rarity these days), he overcame his own severe handicaps to allow me to see his own humble but valuable gifts, and in return allow me to see in a way I have struggled at times to see: I am not only called to South America, but in the smallest and most humble of ways, in spite of my own handicaps and limitations, perhaps needed as well. I might change the systematic poverty that defines much of this continent, but maybe I can change one life, one day at a time, and in turn, be open to the change that occurs within me as well.

“All…are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.


Anonymous said...

I am so proud of you. xoxo-G

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we find God in the strangest of place. Perhaps you found God in Richard.