There’s a house on my street that is a group home for adults with mental disabilities. You would never know to look at it, but why would you really need to know, I suppose. It’s just a normal house that looks like the other normal houses with a small porch and two stories and a couple chairs out front.
Every night there is a man that sits on that front porch watching the world go by. He’ll have with him some sort of article – sometimes a stuffed bear, other times an advertisement flyer. Whatever it is, he’ll always have something.
It wasn’t long after I first moved in two months ago that I heard an incoherent yelling from the porch as I walked from my car to my place. I looked up and saw him sitting on the porch, smiling and waving at me. I’ll be honest: I was a little afraid at first. He wasn’t saying anything I could understand and simply shouting noise at me. That being said, I still smiled and waved back because that’s what I know to be the right thing.
The next few times I passed him the same interaction occurred. He would yell and I came to realize that was his way of saying hello. I would say hi back and wave with a smile.
As time has gone on he’s taken to showing me whatever item he has with him on his porch. Sometimes it’s a pizza advertisement, once it was a People magazine. I stop and look at what he’s holding and I make a comment on it like, “Wow, that pizza looks so good” or “Catching up on celebrity gossip?” and then he smiles so big and gives me a thumbs up. The other day he got his haircut and he made sure to yell out to me and, as soon as I looked up, run his hand over his head and point to himself proudly. He did the same thing last night when he held his stuffed animals up for me to see, kissed them and then pointed to himself to tell me that they were his and he loved them.
I’m guessing that he is some form of autistic based on the non-verbal quality of our interactions but that is just a guess and I couldn’t know for sure. All I know is that he doesn’t seem to be able to really speak in the way that I can, by stringing full sentences together, but we’ve seemed to be able to communicate just fine without it. I feel a little put off by myself for being afraid that first day, although knowing that I had no idea who this man was that was just yelling at me, I still wasn’t very receptive. I’m thankful that I smiled anyways.
It’s just amazing to me to see a man who is grown up and much older than me at this point, living in a group home, away from his family most days of the week, but still so happy with what he has. It warms my heart that he is so friendly and open to strangers, so willing to share his triumphs and so obviously proud of himself.
We are all taught not to judge people and to put ourselves in their shoes to try to understand. I’m not sure if I could ever fully understand his situation or how he feels on a daily basis, but I do know that I have the ability to reciprocate his generosity of friendship, if that’s what we can call it. I’m thankful that I have been raised to be open to people of varying situations and understand that even if they’re different from me it doesn’t mean they’re bad. And even if they can’t say “hello” outright, they can still smile and wave and that makes them much more brave for putting themselves out there like that.
I’m thankful to him too because somehow in the last two months he’s become the most constant fixture in my area. There were a few days when I didn’t see him and I was beginning to get legitimately worried near the end of it. When he showed up again with a new haircut, I was relieved. He’s the only neighbour I recognize and the only one I converse with right now.
And aren’t I so lucky that he just happens to be one of the nicest people I could have happened to know.