Before I moved to Vail some twenty odd years ago, my next-door neighbors in Denver had two sons, Tommy, and Kevin. Tommy was your typical teenager, but Kevin was 30-year-old man who apart from his six-foot two-inch frame resembled an “adult” in very few ways – you see, Kevin was mentally disabled.
Occasionally Tommy would stop by to chat if I was working around the front yard, but I never had much contact with Kevin. So it was that I learned of Kevin’s story from Tommy who told me what he overheard one night while walking past Kevin’s bedroom. Tommy confided that his big brother Kevin believes that God lives under his bed. When I questioned Tommy, he said, “Oh no, he really does because one night while Kevin was praying out loud in his bedroom, I heard him say,” “Are you there, God?” “Where are you? Oh, I see you, you’re under the bed.”
Tommy told me that after hearing those words he tiptoed off to his own room where he would normally laugh at his brother’s behavior; but for some unknown reason, on that night Tommy didn’t find Kevin’s behavior amusing because that’s when Tommy became truly aware of the very different world Kevin lived in.
Kevin reasons and communicates at a 7-year-old level—and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Claus is the one who delivers presents under the tree every Christmas and airplanes are carried aloft by angels.
I was not close to the family, but I do recall that Kevin was always up early each morning and off to work at a workshop for the disabled before returning home to walk the family’s cocker spaniel. And for Kevin, walking the dog, returning to eat dinner, and then on to bed was his routine. The only variation in his daily routine occurred on laundry day, when Kevin would hover excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.
Interestingly, Kevin never seemed dissatisfied with life. He would lope out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work. Tommy told me Kevin still wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and that he stays up late on Thursdays to gather the family’s dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.
And Saturdays, oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day Mr. Woolridge (Kevin’s father) would take Kevin to the old Stapleton Airport where he watched the jets taking off and landing and speculate about where all these people were travelling to.
“That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go!” Kevin would shout while clapping his hands. His anticipation was always so great he could hardly sleep on Friday nights. And so, it would go in Kevin’s world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.
Kevin doesn’t know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple. He will never know the entanglements of politics, wealth, or power, he does not care what brand of clothes he wears or if he dines at the latest trendy eatery. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.
And of the few times I month that I would see Kevin around the neighborhood, it struck me that he never appeared as happy as when he was doing something constructive. His mother told me when he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, he’s into it – full bore. He never shrinks from household chores and will not leave a chore or task until it is finished.
Kevin isn’t obsessed with his work or the work of others. His heart is that of child and still believes that everyone tells the truth, keeps their promises and when someone is wrong, Kevin expects them to apologize instead of arguing.
Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is transparent and sincere. Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he is confused, I get the sense that he simply trusts in a force greater than himself.
It’s difficult not to envy the security and simplicity in Kevin’s world. Which leads me to ask if it’s not those of us who consider ourselves “normal” rather than Kevin, who have the handicap. I mean, how many times do our obligations, fears, pride, and circumstances disable us?
Kevin spends his life in a kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love around him. Overly simplistic—of course it is—but the message it delivers is profound.