Duck Pin Bowling

14 05 2010

This week, I had the opportunity to accompany a friend to his Wednesday volunteering effort:  duck pin bowling with special people.  For those of you not in the know, duck pin bowling is extremely similar to regular bowling, except that the pins are much smaller, and the balls are the size of large grapefruits.  Or very small cantaloupes.  Or gigantic golf balls, for those of you uninterested in citrus comparisons.  Special people, in case you’re unsure or believe as I do that there are many varieties of special people, in this instance are mentally challenged folks.  Those who don’t do well on our standard IQ tests, or don’t have much interest in keeping their tongues in their mouths.

I’m not saying as much jokingly, actually.  I have to admit that I have spent very little time around mentally challenged people.  I’ve had a couple of friends with siblings with Down’s Syndrome, and I watched Life Goes On, but that’s about it.  But being immersed in such a huge group of them for two hours, I learned that I actually really don’t agree with the term “retarded,” and that the ultra-PC term I once thought ridiculous, “differently abled,” really does strike me as being far more accurate.  So even if keeping one’s tongue in one’s mouth is less a choice and more a symptom of an expression of self, I don’t really see it as being lesser.  Super smart people may not brush their teeth using the same motion as do I, but that doesn’t make me any less a person, I’m sure.

It was an uncomfortable situation for me, at first.  I think it’s because I’ve heard so many people, when speaking of the mentally challenged, remark that it made them count their blessings, or feel so fortunate, so lucky, to be of sound mind and able body.  People love to feel blessed when anything different comes along, it seems.  I guess the upshot to my non-thinking mind was that anyone without the same set of faculties as myself was a fearful sight to behold, and that being in contact with them would truly impress the unfortunate nature of the situation.  And surely, there were instances where I felt a wish that someone had a little better control of their body or mind:  I don’t suppose any animal wants to hobble along tripping over each of his or her feet on every step, and it was hard to see the bright side of the young lady who continually called out to her mom, who’d learned to ignore her because she didn’t have anything to say when acknowledged, anyway.  Just by the way, she eventually came over and kissed me on the shoulder.  A compliment!  To my shoulder, at the very least.

Anyway, it was amazing to watch everyone bowl and interact.  They were excited to be there.  They were having fun playing a game.  They cheered one another on and, for the most part, really enjoyed their successes.  The thing about it, though, is that I wasn’t happy for them in any kind of patronizing way.  In fact, the whole thing struck me as a total distillation of what we otherwise consider “normal” human condition.  There were people who were trying to please others, who wouldn’t make much noise until they bowled a strike or a spare, and then would run straight to the person they wanted to make happy to make sure they took notice.  There were those who were ultra-competitive, who threw mini-tantrums every time they didn’t bowl as well as they expected they should.  There were those who couldn’t have cared less about bowling, but who did it happily because it gave them a chance to hang out with the people they cared about.  And there were those who seemed to not even notice that there were others around, who took great pleasure in concentrating on the game in front of them, the joy of rolling the ball and seeing what happened.

It really seemed to me another avenue of the general human expression I see daily, repeatedly, a set of archetypes always in play across our existences.  It was incredible, and it was sad, and it was wonderful, and it was exactly like watching any other group of people.  Is it too corny to say that we’re all in this together?  I think maybe it is.  So I’ll leave at as follows:  we’re all in this.  No exceptions.

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