Sat 10 Dec 2005
My latest trip to the Carlisle House was different from my first visit. Maddy, Ellen and I walked to the facility together, but dispersed amongst the people there when we arrived. When we walked through the door, Ron was sitting at a table with a huge smile on his face to greet us. We walked over to Ron and started to talk to him about his holiday plans. Meanwhile, a younger girl, named Christi came over to ask Ron a question. By her accidental interruption the girls and I ended up talking to her about a bunch of different things. Christi told us that she is 21 years old and is currently a student at Harrisburg Area Community College. She also told us all about her interests which included gymnastics. She told me that she really enjoyed writing and listening to music. I talked to her a while about her interest in music and we compared our taste in artists and particular types of music and indeed we shared some similarities. After talking to her for a while Maddy, Ellen and I began to somewhat split up. A lot was going on at the Carlisle House at the particular time we were there. A Christmas tree was set up and needed to be decorated. Two women there were gathering different types of garland and tinsel to cover the tree in as decoration. Before Maddy, Ellen and I broke off individually a small woman approached us while we were talking to Christi. She told us her name was Peanut and that she wanted us to follow her into another room. Not only did Maddy and Ellen go with us, but Christi came along too. Peanut began to tell us that she needed some people to help make her a crown out of construction paper. She told us that she is the karaoke champion at the Carlisle House. She wanted us to help her make a crown for the next sing off her and the others they would have at the facility. We then walked back over to the arts and crafts table where Ron was sitting and another woman was painting a type of ornament or a type of decoration for Christmas. She began to tell us that she enjoys selling her decorations to neighbors and friends she knows around the holidays. Meanwhile, we began to talk to Christi again and afterwards I began to talk to Ron individually. He began to tell me a more personal story that involved his family situation. I was so pleased to see the progress from the last time I had a conversation with Ron to the latest conversation I had with him. It seemed he was more at ease and felt comfortable telling me some more information about his personal life. I talked to him for quite a while before he had to leave the facility to pick up his Mom from work. I wished him a Merry Christmas, told him I enjoyed the conversation we shared and said goodbye. Once Ron left, as I had mentioned earlier, the women who were getting all the decorations ready for the tree invited Ellen and I to help decorate the tree. I helped cut the tinsel out of the package and handed it to the ladies. Peanut decided to take a picture of us while we were decorating the tree. Also, Terry, the man I had met last time I was there dancing once again to some Christmas music that was playing on the radio. I said hello to him and continued to decorate the tree with the other ladies. Following the tree decorating I had another conversation with Christi as well as Ellen. We started to tell funny stories about ourselves and discussed school and the difference challenges from major to major. After talking for quite some time I told her I had to leave because I couldn’t be late to swim practice. I said goodbye to everyone and told the women that I decorated the tree with how great the tree looked and left.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a very great conversation with Ron. He began to tell me some more personal stories about his family situation. Mainly, he focused in on his parents’ situation and how it has an affect on him today. To avoid any type of confidentiality issue I am not going to go into detail about what Ron told me. One thing I can say though is that his story had quite an affect of me as a listener. At one point he was asking me for advice and I responded by telling him I can’t offer advice but I could give him my opinion on the situation and offer him different possibilities to go about solving his situation with his family. I hope that he learned something from me that day because I know for a fact, his story really made me realize a lot about my own personal situation. He gave me a way to look at things in a different way. I realized Ron’s feelings were just as strong as any other person’s feelings that do not have a disability. In listening to Ron’s story I look back and noticed that my approach to the conversation as a helper was not any different to help or ‘advice’ I’d offer to a friend back on campus. I must say at one point I felt a little intimidated because I wasn’t completely able to understand his situation due to our difference in age, but that I was able to learn from him and use his advice through the story as an aid in the future. I think this experience was a perfect one for me. Sometimes I get the most out of my life when listening to others’ stories and I feel Ron’s story was motivating in a way that really allowed me to see just how lucky I am to be whom I am and showed me that I should appreciate my life much more than sometimes I tend to. Ron’s story was a type of experience to me that really opened my eyes and never in my life would I have guessed someone who has a disability would be able to do such as thing, but I was indeed proven wrong and I’m thankful for it.
As a final note I want to relate my last experience at the Carlisle House to Mary Douglas’s idea of categorization. She says, “…one specific difference classifies an entire person “disabled” even though the rest of the body and its functions remain “normal” (34 Thomson). I must say naturally my mind might have done this from time to time when interacting with the people at the Carlisle House. However, since my second trip I must say I got more of an idea of what that categorization Douglas’s discussed really means. I feel given any person a chance and in my case, Ron’s stories he was able to share with me really helped me see how important this is within society and how easily it can be for those who are “normal” like me, can overlook the fact that people with disabilities are actually quite alike us in many different ways. As I recall Stephanie telling my group from the first orientation “It is always nice to have the students from different colleges come in and interact with the folks here because it wipes out all biases they might have developed before meeting with you.” This also goes along with Douglas’s idea in which those who are disable can also form biases and jump to conclusions about me just as I could do the same, but when given the time and courage to form conversations and interact with one another I’ve become a better person because of it.