Clarence taught me the transient nature of people without families within the mentally challenged community.  When I met Clarence, he was living in an Adult Living Facility that housed people who were developmentally delayed and those who were emotionally ill.  Years later, he was moved for some reason to another home across town.  I never understood who moved him or why.  He had no family.  Though he was higher functioning, Clarence spoke only on the rarest occasions.  His speech pattern was two-word couplets.

Clarence was a tall, handsome black man.  A thoughtful and gifted artist, his paintings hang on agency walls all over Volusia County.  Clarence kept his body immaculately clean; and he policed his surroundings for trash like a hungry varmint searching for scrapes of food.

Before the days of the HIPPA Law which ensures confidentiality, I could keep track of Clarence’s movements.  Often, a group home would be closed because of limited funding or by the State and emergency arrangements had to be made.  Because Clarence’s funding was limited, he would be placed in the cheapest place available.  These living arrangements were often not stable.  One Sunday afternoon, I went to pick up Clarence for Special Gathering and the house was barren and he was gone.  I never understood where he had been taken.

I found Clarence in DeLand years later.  Knowing better, I enthusiastically approached him as though I’d found a long, lost first cousin.  Immediately, his autism kicked in and he backed away from me with fear piercing his expression and concern shooting from his eyes.  I backed away and tried to speak in soft measured tones.  However, the damage had been done.  Ignoring, smiling, soft tones never worked again.  My transient treasure had been stolen by my enthusiastic and overly zealous joy.

Clarence taught me to hold loosely these treasured people with their marvelous gifts and quirky habits.  He was one of my first genuine friends in the mentally challenged community.  We had forged our friendship in silence as we sat quietly during the Sunday afternoon van routes.  He had cemented my love for him during Bible class when he fought to answer my simple questions about Jesus.  With a grin that overwhelmed his stern face, Clarence showed his appreciation as I took advantage of his cleanness obsession by letting him throw away the trash and reposition the chairs under the table when the Bible class was over.

I had learned from Clarence how to approach an adult whose disability was within the autism spectrum.  He quietly responded to my silence with warmth and understanding.  He spoke the needs and desires of his heart with his eyes and his art.  Now, I occasionally see this Transient Treasure as I go from workshop to workshop in Volusia.  Sometimes, he acknowledges me with his eyes and I smile with satisfaction.

One day, when we meet in heaven, I’ll be able to explain to Clarence how much he taught me.  How much I appreciated his gentle tutelage when I was a raw, untrained novice.  He helped me and put up with my quirky, undisciplined ways.  I’ll always be grateful for Clarence, a Transient Treasure.

Advertisements