My boss caught me today dancing in the hall as I was headed towards the ladies’ room and heard Aretha Franklin’s classic song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” playing in the gym. A group of people who live at Baddour Center were walking in the gym, exercising indoors due to cold weather. I wasn’t even a little embarrassed at being called out for dancing (badly) at work because breaking out into song or dance at Baddour is pretty much modus operandi!
It reminded me of why I love so much what I do – working for special people. I remember what I call my first day in Developmental Disabilities, decades ago. Someone asked me to be a “hugger” at Area 8 Special Olympics, which means that I stood at the races’ end and hugged athletes as they crossed the finish line. It was my first time to attend the games, and I had no idea what joy I would experience. When I arrived, a gentleman asked me if I could help judge the team banners, as one of their judges canceled at the last minute. Of course, I said yes and headed over to the track where they were organizing opening ceremonies.
The school groups were lining up, and all looked excited, proud, and happy! I took my place at the judging table and the announcer opened the track meet in prayer. It sounded a little muffled, and I didn’t hear all the words. Inspiring music played on the loudspeaker, and the first school group approached the line where we judges sat so that we could get a good look at their banners. Group after group passed by us, stopping and beaming at us! Honestly, I did not know how I would ever choose one banner over the other. They were all so colorful, inspiring, and proud.
And then it happened. A smaller group of athletes pulled up to the starting line. They weren’t wearing uniforms that matched; but, when I say they were excited, that is an understatement! The banner that they so proudly held for us to see was made of white, butcher paper, with tassels made of multi-colored construction paper at the four corners. The design was hand-drawn with crayons. In the center, there was a brown, inverted “V” that looked like a teepee. Inside the V, there were stick figures of varying description, some with curly dark hair, some with short blonde hair, some in crudely drawn wheelchairs, some with big feet, any size or shape stick person you might want to see. I got up from the table and walked in front of them to look more closely, thinking that maybe I was missing part of the message. I asked one of the pole bearers, who could hardly contain his excitement, to tell me what I was looking at. He said, “It’s us in the tent.” Even after his response, I had nothing! I’m looking hard at this drawing, really wanting to understand about a tent, when the team sponsor saw my distressed face and said, “it’s from the prayer.” She gave me a copy of the program and pointed to the prayer, which I read to myself for the first time in my life.
“Dear Lord, let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt. Amen”
And then I got it. The “tent” was the “attempt” and, yes, they were all in it!!! I still swallow hard when I think about what an impact this unassuming group of Special Olympians had on me that day. Enough of an impact that when I later had an opportunity to work in a program providing services to special people, I jumped at the chance. I will tell on myself and let you know that was in the 80’s (yes, the 1900’s), and I still feel that special way today.
If you’re wondering, the answer is yes. That banner won! I hugged over 50 special people that day, probably harder than they have ever been hugged in their lives! I thought when I volunteered to help at the track meet that day so many years ago that I was doing something good, doing someone a favor. I can assure you, that the good that was done that day was not by me.
It has been my absolute privilege to support, serve, and work for special people and their families for over four decades. I am reminded on a day like today, when things are so different in our lives, that there as so many things that are exactly the same. Like the feeling that I felt when I “got” the message that day from a very special banner. And the feeling today that I got when I went dancing down the hall.
Let us all be brave in the tent!