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Interesting Lives

Chewy Charis's picture

I recall getting back my plate and secretly wishing that it had turned into something extraordinary—something weird, beautiful, or hideous—anything really, as long as it’s different from the way I drew them. Instead, I saw red and yellow wave patterns lining up perfectly on the plates, exactly the way I painted them. Disappointed, I turned my head to my right and saw Mary’s plate. It was amazing. A small black mountain growing out of a regular agar plate. It was absolutely amazing. In retrospect, I am struck by how the plates became the perfect metaphors for our lives.

My life is good in the ordinary way. I mean, I am a 19-year-old in college, exactly what our culture would expect of me. But more importantly, I am very goal-oriented: I see the type of success that is possible for me, so I carefully plan my life four or five years in advance, and carefully execute those plans.  Along come surprises, but even as they force me to change my plans accordingly, I try my best to stick to the modified plans. That makes my life very uninteresting for me, but well, our society likes people who know what they want and how to get that, right? In a way, I feel that I fit the norm exactly because how predictable and therefore uninteresting my life is.

Now, Mary might not fit the norm, in fact, she doesn’t. She is not like a neurotypical adult, in the sense that at this point in her life, she should, according to our society, have a well-paying job and kids. But she’s not like what society portrays a person with Down Syndrome to be either: she is not some helpless creature wasting its life away. So just like how she poked through the gel against convention, she stands in a place of our society for which people can’t systematically come up with a label. Her art work symbolizes her personhood: she is a multidimensional person, and she refuses to be reduced to a flat, stereotypical character. She is quite interesting.

Matter of fact, they all are: everyone at CCW is interesting in his/her own way. They are amazing in the usual way—they are friendly, talkative, and welcoming. They are amazing in the unusual ways—they are artists with mental disabilities. But more than that, definitely more than that, they are people with unique characteristics. I mean, I’ve never met a guy who talks about movies that much until I meet Ken (which is part of the reason why I find it kind of difficult to talk with him since I watched so few American movies). And I’ve never seen a person like John who smiles and laughs so often. And Tim, he’s kind of awkward, (which makes him fun), in the sense that he subtly does nice things but openly speaks about his “mistakes”—don’t the normal usually do the opposite? He would always hold the door open for you, and he always says something like “Oopsies” when he crashes into something. As for Mary, well, I don’t even know how to begin; I mean, how do you describe someone who is imaginative enough to draw Jesus in front of a background filled with bacteria? Artists are so often restricted by conventions that they have to fight to overcome their limited mindset; Mary has the gift of great imagination innately. (This is one of the times when I seriously don’t understand why our society devalues people like them when they have what we value the most.)

Working with them was a pleasure. I admit that it can be difficult because I have trouble understanding them when they speak, but it’s certainly possible and actually likely that one would enjoy their presence. Like most other people I met, probably more so, people from CCW bring surprises in my life and makes my life more interesting. I thank them for being there. 

One thing I would like to keep thinking about is how our conventional thinking limits us, making our paths more narrow, and how being exceptional and away from the norm frees us from that limitation, enabling life to be more interesting and exciting.