I have absolutely no claim to my crooked man, except that he smiled at our family on Monday. I had not seen him in a year or two and was relieved to find that he had not met some kind of sad ending. He was just as happy to see me as I was to see him. As we biked past him, he looked up and said, "Good morning." He smiled. My smile was bigger....I was elated.
Our form of special lies in Greg's autism. Greg's strength is not unique. All people with autism "deal" minute by minute every day of their lives. However, I believe that it takes another autistic person to fully empathize with his struggles. I marvel at Greg's coping techniques in what must be a really confusing world.
What might the crooked man think of us when we bike past him? Is it because we have "special" in our family that he did something he had never done before by greeting us? Was it sheer coincidence? I think the former....
His own form of special lies in a physical disability. He leans forward at quite a significant angle and cannot straighten up. With a gait that is awkward but sure, he plants one foot in front of the other, and to see where he is going, he lifts his head. He knows our family thanks to Greg. First, Greg rides behind my husband on a tandem bike and second, he sings when he is happy. Everyone strolling by notices Greg including my crooked man who heard him singing in the past and recognized us on Monday by Greg's shrill, throaty chant.
He is MY crooked man because I wrote about him a few years ago, and he appeared on my own "autism journey". I wrote about him to teach my 7th and 8th grade reading students about perspective. As inquisitive as 8th graders can be, they were full of questions about him like, "Did you talk to him, Square?" And, "Did you ask him why he walks along the Susquehanna River?" They wanted to know all of the details of his life, naturally! They accepted my answers that I simply could not interrupt his walk to do a meet and greet, and they respected his need for privacy despite their curiosity. They loved the assignment I gave immediately after discussing "perspective". Pretend you are the crooked man and write a poem, essay, reaction, skit or some other original writing sample from his perspective. My students did a stellar job of imagining the difficulties faced by someone with a crooked back.
I'm sure you can imagine their writings! They gave him a bent back from a war injury, a car accident, a debilitating disease or a genetic mutation. They even had him feel sorry for the family with the autistic child who rode by him each day as he walked the Susquehanna River path. That's the one that always gave me pause because I rarely try to guess what others think about us. I feel sorry for my crooked man and never thought about his reciprocal feelings about us! Just because I live with someone with autism doesn't mean I have insight on what others think about my family. However, in the case of the crooked man, I know this. He reacted to our presence on Monday. He gave me the first "Good morning" I ever got from him. He recognizes that we have survived just like he has.
The next time I see him, I'm going to introduce our family and let him know somehow that he helped me that day. If my students are correct, we will have one of those life-changing conversations that begin by chance and show us that nothing happens by chance. Just as my crooked man made me feel better that day, maybe we made him feel better, too.
Our bike ride along the Susquehanna always includes time to throw rocks. Next time we might be able to add a brief conversation with our "walking man."