When I was in high school, I volunteered to teach at the Association for Community Living – an institution for people with intellectual disabilities; it was initially created to give them a chance to learn, meet new people, and get in touch with their creativity. I used to go there every Saturday for a few hours. Two of my pupils, I remember vividly, were a sweet, middle-aged couple – Hannah and Mark. Hannah had Down syndrome and Mark was autistic.
Anyway, I worked at the institution for a year and a half, and I can honestly say that it was the most amazing and humbling experience of my life. What particularly interested me was the relationship between Hannah and Mark. It was so sweet and simple and, unlike typical couples, their relationship was very innocent and child-like. I could tell there were no complications, no jealousy, no competition, no expectations, no superficiality or materialism, no rules, and no boundaries, between them. To me, they looked like the perfect couple; a real example of what true love is and should be all about. I know this may come as a surprise, but when I saw them together, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy. I knew normal couples like this did not exist, and probably never will. When you know too much about the world, you think too much; and when you think too much, you are bound to overanalyze, be over-critical, and judgmental, which thus lead to complications.
Hannah and Mark accepted each other wholeheartedly. When they looked at each other, they really and truly saw the person they fell in love with, rather than someone who is there only for the sole purpose of satisfying her/his needs with cheap, superficial and material things. This is the problem amongst people who are normal, or appear to be normal; we tend to “love” for very selfish reasons. And most of the time this so-called “love” is conditional. Perhaps, the reason could be that we want to have some kind of drama in our lives, because we are told to believe that it’s normal. We are told to believe that arguments are normal because it brings the couple closer, when in reality it creates tension, rifts, and in most cases, resentment. Thus, we get so lost in these norms that “love” becomes very indiscreet; and people use it hastily so that they could get what they want, without the need to be genuine about it.
I have to admit I had seen Hannah and Mark argue a few times, but their arguments were usually limited to the colour of crayons. I recall this one time I drew a picture and had asked both Hannah and Mark to colour it using crayons. And weirdly, I still remember the dialogue between them. It went something like this:
Hannah (As she picked up the blue-coloured crayon): I will colour the eyes blue
Mark: That’s not blue Hannah, it’s green
Hannah: it’s blue Mark, see… (She stuck the crayon close to Mark’s face so he could get a proper look)
Mark: I don’t see blue, I see green
Hannah: It’s blue, it’s blue, it’s blue! (Her face was starting to get red)
Mark: No, it’s green, it’s green, it’s green!
Hannah (Getting frustrated, sighed): Fine, we won’t use this crayon because he will have two different eye colours. Let’s colour it black.
Mark (Shrugging carelessly): Whatever you say Hannah. I prefer black over green anyways.
Awww! I still wonder about them, till this day. Wonder where they are and what they are doing. The only reason I stopped teaching at TACL was because I started university after that summer ended. I know I never should have stopped teaching there. But I guess life was starting to take me in a new direction.
I just know I will always remember Hannah and Mark, because they definitely left a lasting impression on me. Indeed their presence touched me in ways that I can’t even explicate. And I hope that wherever they are, they will always be as happy as I used to see them during my teaching days at ACL.