I think one of my deepest needs is to be acknowledged. Not just the acknowledgement of my physical presence, which is important and sometimes sufficient acknowledgement. But also my mind, my heart, my opinions, my efforts. I think a lot of who I am goes unnoticed, every day. That’s almost a bit depressing but, ultimately, not really all that depressing.
On Monday I took my usual route home from work, exiting 101 onto Black Lake Blvd. As I coasted down the off-ramp and slowed to a stop, there he was perched at his usual spot, sign in hand, hoping to bum a cigarette or maybe some spare change.
But it’s really not a “he”—it’s a “them.” There are a number of different people who man that spot, though there are a few regulars who I recognize. I didn’t know this man. One side of his sign said something about money, the other side the mantra “Go Green.” Okay; I guess he was on double duty: seeking money and saving the planet.
I don’t ever give out money at this spot. I think I once gave out a bottle of water there. I usually make eye contact, and smile, then permanently look away. I guess it’s my way of communicating that I acknowledge you, recognize you are human and have dignity, and don’t consider you a nuisance, but I won’t be donating anything.
It was a gorgeous day and my window was down, so I anticipated some kind of interaction this time. He didn’t ask me for money; he just said “go green” pointing to his sign. I think I gave him a thumbs up and said something like “right on.”
He said something like, “people never look at the sign, man.” I told him that I always read the signs. Actually, I’m not sure he’s right; I tend to think everyone reads the signs. They just look away quickly after reading.
Then he said to me, “some people say I need counseling.” Without hesitation, I responded with a smile, “I could use a little counseling myself.” He seemed to hear both my spoken and implicit message, responding: “don’t we all.”
I didn’t give him any money. The light turned green and I drove on.
A diverse community of people cross my path every weekday. In class and walking to and from class, I encounter the EF International community, of course. I also encounter Evergreen students, about whom it’s become a bit cliché to call “odd.”
And then are the "special needs" kids who I don't know much about but who appear to work on campus in various roles, jobs I assume need to be done but which most people don’t want. As I felt in my past experience working with special needs people, I sometimes find it odd that they’re considered to have "special needs."
I mean, I do get it, obviously. But sometimes they don’t seem like they need all that much. This particular group of students, based on limited encounters in the lobby, around campus, and in the bathroom, don’t seem to feel a lot of stress or worry.
Actually, now that I think about it, these people might be some of that happiest people I know. Care-free, at peace with the world, it seems. I may be wrongly assessing them, but that’s how they seem to me. I think those not labeled “special needs”—myself included—have in their own way a whole host of needs that they feel must be met, many of these needs perhaps stemming from angst, discontent, fear. These young men and women seem need-free, in this respect.
Yes, they need guidance and direction and supervision and support. I suppose there are different ways of being needy. I’m not sure they need to be noticed, like I do. I need attention, and praise, and validation, or my insecurities can emerge and thwart my efforts to be whole and good, to be a light to others. They don’t seem to need that, though they might appreciate it.
A lot of people don’t really feel that comfortable around special needs people; they’re not sure what to say, how to talk to them; it can be unsettling, uncomfortable. But they are settled, they’re comfortable. We should notice them, because they have a lot to teach us. But I can’t tell if they care that much whether they’re noticed or not.
Some of my shy EF students prefer not to be noticed and are terrified of speaking in class. They'd rather not be acknowledged; it's easier...no pressure. Some love the attention, love working the crowd. Some of the Evergreeners that come out on sunny days to juggle, dance with tribal drums, do yoga in the center of campus, or hold up protest signs, they want to be noticed, I think, or they wouldn’t do what they’re doing in the most visible spot on campus when there are other, more secluded places they could go.
I think that this special needs community does want to be noticed, because…they’re human. But their easygoing nature is enviable, and if they crave attention and acknowledgement from others, it seems to take a different form.
Flo and Wilhelm
Several months ago, maybe last summer, I decided to feed some bread crumbs to the ducks at my apartment complex. I’m not sure that this is ultimately the smartest or kindest thing to do, but it’s hard to resist them and the way these creatures, normally fearful of me, slowly gravitate toward me, definitely a bit suspicious of me and reactive to any sudden movements on my part, yet becoming progressively bolder in their proximity to me the more food I give them.
I don’t think these ducks have forgotten me. Actually, there are two ducks in particular that I’m pretty sure are my guardian angels. Flo and Wilhelm. I see them everywhere. I mean, I think they follow me. I’m sure it’s the same pair. Wilhelm with his green head, Flo with her gray colors.
Sure, maybe all mallard duck couples look like this. But I’m sure it’s the same ducks, following me around Olympia. I see them at my apartment complex of course. I don’t honestly remember if these are the same ones from my feeding months ago, but Joann’s pretty sure they are. I like believing they’re the same ones. It’s a convenient belief.
A couple weeks ago, I saw them downtown, a few miles from my apartment. And then I saw them this morning in yet another place. I’ve been ambitiously waking up at 5:40 every day this week to exercise. This morning I was in the woods near my apartment doing sprints, jumping jacks, dance aerobics, and pushups. During one of my sprints/jaunts, I saw them, behind a large mound of dirt, just sitting, motionless. I might have woken them.
Flo and Wilhelm. I’m sure they’re my guardian angels. They probably want me to notice them. Maybe they want me to notice them noticing me...to feel reassured that I’m not alone, I’m never alone, that my life is a shared enterprise. They might want some more bread too. I only feed them 100% whole wheat bread. And only the heels.