Kindness Bares The Soul

 

We'd been riding for a couple of hours after working in our yards for most of the morning and into the mid-afternoon - so much for honoring Labor Day in its intended manner, I thought to myself - just meandering about the countryside with no particular direction in mind and no real objective but to put in some miles while minimizing the sunlight shining directly into our eyes…… We came across a Dairy Queen in a small town north of Des Moines, and even though we hadn't discussed it formally between us, our turn signals came on at just about the same instant…… I smiled…… It always seemed to be that way between us - always on that same wave length and acting accordingly…… That's what always made it nice and comforting riding with Mike…… The idea of stopping to get some water and some ice cream before turning for home was r-e-a-l-l-y appealing on this sunny and unseasonably warm late Summer afternoon…… We pulled into the lot and parked our bikes - my F650GS and his R100RT - in its lone shady spot next to a late-model, burgundy-colored Dodge Grand Caravan minivan that had pulled in right ahead of us ……

Dismounting and removing some our riding gear, we noticed, even through the heavily tinted glass, the two adults in the front seats and a young man sitting immediately behind them in the middle seat looking at us intently, his arms flailing about and his mouth moving irregularly…… When the man we presumed to be his father began opening the sliding rear door on the opposite side of the vehicle, it was obvious to even a casual observer the young man was challenged in some manner, his verbal screeches and grunts now clearly audible in the air…… The father noted our brief hesitation, nodded, and looked at us apologetically before stepping back to fully open the door beside the young man we presumed was his son…… We walked very slowly across the lot as we worked the stiffness out of our legs and began to feel our full circulation return, all the while casually looking over our shoulders at the minivan every couple of paces to see how the family was getting along ……

We'd gotten our cups of water and Blizzards and were already enjoying their cool refreshment while sitting at a picnic-style table on the storefront patio facing the busy cross street, when we noted the family in the car approaching us, the young man on his father's arm and his mother carrying a tray with a selection of ice cream items, obviously intent on sitting at the table right next to ours ……

I briefly glanced in their direction in an inattentive way, eager to see what else I might learn about them and their lives……

They seemed like a normal family out on a planned excursion - perhaps out for a little treat and a brief drive after an early supper, I imagined…… I glanced more carefully at them as they approached us…… The father was tall - certainly taller than either one of us…… I guessed him to be somewhere in his mid to late 40's…… He wore an Oakland A's cap, its cover nearly perched on ears that seemed to be poised to leap off the side of his head and into the breeze…… I couldn't see much of anything else beneath his cap - I imagined he might actually be bald, given the appearance of thicker tufts of hair at the back of his head beneath the rear of the cap…… He wore glasses - a style that had once been popular several years ago with thicker rims and side rails…… His eyes were…… well…… expressionless, making him somewhat difficult to read…… The well-trimmed mustache above his thin lips - lips that held his teeth captive in darkness and seemed to be foreigners to a smile - gave him a somewhat unfriendly look, though the attentiveness he showed his son caused me to rethink that presumption…… The rest of his appearance was unremarkable - jeans, a dark brown leather belt, a simple white cotton long-sleeved dress shirt and laced leather dress shoes ……

Clutching his arm, the young man to his right appeared to be in his early 20's, his height approaching something just south of 6 feet, I guessed…… Outwardly, he certainly seemed normal in every way…… His sandy brown hair was trimmed and neatly combed, framing a kind and gentle face, his upper lip showing signs of some new hair growth…… His face was further accented by deep blue eyes barely concealed behind a pair of fashionable wire-rimmed glasses…… He wore a pair of nearly-new jeans not yet faded to the well-worn shade of his father's, a plaid short-sleeved shirt with a button-down collar and a brown, western-style belt with an almost-as-large-as-a-small-salad-plate belt buckle, engraved with a map of Texas with a glistening red gem of some kind affixed in the place I thought Dallas might be…… And on his feet, a pair of cowboy boots I sensed had seen some serious use over the years, the scuff marks and heel wear speaking volumes about where they'd been and come back from - and with spurs too, no less…… The only thing missing was the "ten gallon" hat, I mused to myself, though in looking him over a bit more carefully on a second visual pass, I confirmed that musing…… The hat? I suspected he may have left that in the car if the crease lines in his hair were any indication…… Yup…… He sure seemed like the real thing all right - except…… well…… except maybe for that definitely non-cowboy looking plaid button-down shirt…… His physical mannerisms and speech patterns, however, told me there was something decidedly unique about this young man…… Even in his movements towards us, he was still twitching and gyrating with some minimal degree of control - movement that didn't exactly seem possible without the support of someone walking beside him…… And then there was still the sound of that painful screeching, though now it seemed more…… more subdued than what it had been earlier ……

The young man's mother was dressed plainly as well - a simple, light green open-collared blouse partially covered by a dark green loose knit sweater accented with colorful, floral patterned buttons, purposefully draped across her shoulders atop a conservatively patterned skirt, bleached white Keds on her feet…… Like her husband, I guessed her to be in her mid-to-late 40's, though her complexion and minimal facial lines seemed to mask those years very well…… Her fair skin and narrow, delicate cheekbones complimented the shoulder length strawberry blond hair she'd pulled into a pony tail and tied off with a bright red ribbon…… Her manner seemed gentle, unassuming and unpretentious - much like what I'd seen in her son only a few moments before…… There was also a certain kindness in her face and the look in her eyes - soft laugh lines in the corners of her mouth and her eyes…… She was actually pretty in a way I suspected few others might appreciate - a simple and natural kind of beauty easily overlooked in a world too easily distracted and seduced by the artificial imagery cosmetics too often creates ……

"Shall we sit…… here, Paul?", I heard her say softly, her head turning in the direction of her husband and son…… "This looks like a good place ……"

"Yeah…… This looks good, Marcie……" he replied while apparently scanning the area for any other places that might be better in his eyes…… "Whatta YOU think, David?" he asked his son…… David, though, didn't respond - he was already looking at us, his eyes now wide with excitement ……

They sat at the table directly beside us on the patio, David sitting closest to me while his parents sat across from him…… He immediately stopped his screeching and grunting when he saw Mike and I, his eyes growing wider by the moment…… I glanced at him and smiled, before turning to his parents and doing the same ……

Mike and I were enjoying the first traces of a beautiful sunset and watching the traffic pass on the street in front of us, all the while bantering back and forth about what we'd experienced at work so far that week, when I felt a tentative hand on my shoulder, gently stroking the pads of my Joe Rocket mesh jacket…… I turned slowly to see who was touching me - and came eye to eye with David ……

"Is…… t-h-a-t…… t-h-a-t…… yer…… yer m-o-t-o-r-c-y-c-l-e…… uh…… M-i-s-t-e-r?" he hesitatingly said, pointing in the general direction of our BMW's parked on the far side of the parking lot…… I had begun to form the words of my response after swallowing and clearing a late spoonful of my Blizzard from my mouth, but they never left the station - they were immediately ambushed by those of another stern voice coming from over my left shoulder……

"D-a-v-i-d!" the voice spoke firmly…… "Please don't bother that man, son! Don't you…… r-e-m-e-m-b-e-r…… what we talked about before we got outta the car? "

"Paul?" Marcie whispered hesitantly…… "Please…… don't……" Paul looked back at her and then glanced down at the table in front of him, as if searching for an idea on how to get through this moment…… Seconds later, he raised his head, his eyes once again looking at David and me ……

The pained look of "Oh-Dad-do-I-really-have-to-stop?" had already crept onto the young man's face - eyebrows arched skyward, the scrunched nose, the corners of his mouth drooping downwards, each of those revealing more wrinkles on that young face that it would ever see in real life, even at an advanced age - said it all as he looked back into his father's eyes…… I looked too, if only for a fleeting moment, my own face probably mirroring David's to some extent…… And I felt it myself…… But then it hit me at about the same time Mike noticed it as well - his twitching had stopped…… His screeching had stopped…… He'd spoken - even if it was a bit labored…… Then, the hair on my neck began to stand on end…… And as quickly as he'd approached and spoken to me, he was gone, sliding back to his seat a foot or so away as fast as his body would allow, a small pool of melted ice cream and it's trail across the ground the only remnant of his presence a few heartbeats earlier ……

I turned in the direction of his escape to gain a better view of the young man's father ……

"It's…… OK, sir……" I calmly replied, a smile crossing my lips to add to my sincerity, glancing first at the man and then at his wife …… "Really - he was no bother…… No bother at all……"

He stared at me with those expressionless eyes as if trying to determine if my intentions were sincere, no words escaping his mouth, an almost imperceptible nod the only indication I had that he'd acknowledged my words…… All the while, Marcie was looking at me intently…… I suspected this was a variation of a scenario that had probably played itself out many times in the past with, in his mind, similar and unsatisfactory results - a public family outing, the stares and unwanted attention and ultimate humiliation their son experienced, even in our more enlightened and tolerant times ……

"Your…… son…… David…… seems interested in motorcycles……" I continued a second later, smiling and nodding my head slowly up and down…… "Would you…… uh…… mind…… if we took ''em over to look at ours? I think he might r-e-a-l-l-y like that ……"

Both he and Marcie looked directly at me and Mike before glancing over at David, now, I suspected, listening intently to every word of our conversation while still working on finishing his ice cream…… They then turned to face each other, his eyes seeking hers and hers seeking his, communicating in ways seldom found outside of long-term relationships ……

"That…… that…… would be very nice of you…… He's…… he's…… never had anyone do something like this with him before…… We…… we just couldn't risk having him be hurt again by another…… episode……" Marcie said softly before bowing her head, her voice sprinkled with emotion and release ……

I nodded…… "Then this'll be g-r-e-a-t……" I said, my own body language and tone of response clearly giving away the excitement I was feeling at that moment…… This really would be a great experience, I thought ……

I stood and immediately turned to David…… I looked directly into his eyes and exclaimed with great fanfare…… "Hey, man - let's go over and look at some motorcycles!" He first glanced at his parents and then back to me and then to Mike - and repeated that motion at least three more times, his brow furrowed and eyes darting back and forth even more quickly than his head…… The expression in his eyes when he finally gazed into mine after realizing it really w-a-s going to happen after all, said everything I needed to hear…… He opened his mouth as if to speak, the excitement of the moment, however, completely and totally overwhelming his ability to make any sound at all…… I reached down and gently grabbed his arm to help him up - as I had seen Paul do earlier with him…… Once stabilized, I moved to his left and gripped his left arm with my right, linking them…… We then walked arm in arm across the lot in slow, measured steps, all the while with Mike and I talking to him about our motorcycles…… He was in his glory, the smile on his face broad and expressive…… I looked over my shoulder briefly after we'd completed the first few steps of our journey and saw Paul and Marcie wave - and then warmly embrace ……

It was a moving moment, I suspect, for all of us ……

On that walk and the subsequent time spent together, we discovered, much to our pleasure and delight, that David was actually quite engaging and intelligent and humorous - and very knowledgeable about motorcycles and motorcycling, especially about BMW's…… We also learned more about the inner workings of our bikes in 15 minutes with David than we had in years on our own…… And in spite of what we'd heard and seen earlier with his speech and physical mannerisms, he was very well behaved while with us…… When I asked him about that and his overall condition, he mentioned something about his medicine and the occasional reactions he had to it ……

Time passed quickly…… We'd been through the mechanical particulars of each bike a couple of times and the history of BMW motorcycles when Paul and Marcie walked up to see what we were up to, our laughter and excited speech obvious giveaways there was a good time being had by all…… We could see they were overjoyed at this turn of events - for both David and themselves ……

Once a lull in the conversation came as they usually do even in the most intense of peoples' time together, I turned to Mike and said…… "Ya' know…… This r-e-a-l-l-y has been great, but we should prob'ly think about headin' back home now…… We've got a pretty good ride back to Des Moines and it'll be getting' dark soon - an' we've both got a long day ahead of us tomorrow too ……"

David and Paul and Marcie nodded…… "Well…… I suppose…… we should be goin' too ……" Paul added……

"Before we go, though……" I added a moment later, turning quickly away from my tank bag where I'd just retrieved my camera…… "I've got an idea…… Why don't we take a picture or two to celebrate this special occasion? "

David and Paul and Marcie all looked at each other and responded right away in a unique and joyously happy blend of "great" and "wonderful" along with David's booming "AWESOME!"

After shuffling people into and out of the picture taking area trying to make the most of the day's remaining light, I saw I had one shot left - and I knew exactly what I wanted that shot to be…… I glanced over at Paul and Marcie and winked before turning to David…… "David? I've got one picture left - an' I was wondering if you'd like me to take a picture of you…… sitting on my motorcycle…… Whatta ya' think? Huh?"

His answer was immediate - and intensely moving…… He took a shaky, unaided step or two across the couple of feet that separated us, put his arms out, pulled me to his chest and hugged me for all he was worth while repeatedly shouting "AWESOME!" in my ear …… When he released me from his embrace a few moments later, moist eyes were in abundance - even mine…… Moving quickly, I set up the shot - he astride my GS in near perfect posture, wearing my Joe Rocket mesh jacket and BMW Airflow gloves, my Schuberth helmet perched on top of my tank bag…… Mike's turquoise RT was also clearly visible in a portion of the background…… I used the camera's flash to ensure a good shot, but ya' know? I really didn't need it at all - the glow coming from David's smile could've lit up even the darkest of days ……

After settling back down and rearranging things on our bikes and getting back into our riding gear, we all said our mercifully short goodbyes…… Paul walked David back to the other side of the minivan to help him with his seating, while Marcie stood and spoke to both of us ……

"This r-e-a-l-l-y was a wonderful experience for David…… An' for us too……" she said softly…… "I…… I never knew he could laugh as much as we heard him laugh with you…… He's had some very hard times in his life…… This'll be a new beginning for him an' for us - a time that maybe we really c-a-n begin to trust others again…… I…… we…… really don't know how to thank you for all of your kindness…… David'll remember this for a long, long time to come…… Maybe we'll see you again some day……" And with that, she leaned over and hugged Mike and kissed him on the cheek at about the same moment Paul returned to our side of their vehicle…… She moved from Mike immediately to me, hugging and kissing me on the cheek in the same way she'd done with Mike…… Paul shook Mike's hand and then turned to face me, extending his hand at the same time to shake mine ……

"Thanks so much…… This…… this was a truly a wonderful experience…… We've been very protective of David - and for good reason…… This experience will change how we face the future together……" He reached into his pocket, pulled out a business card and gave it to me…… "We'd love to have some prints of the photos you took - we'll gladly pay you……" He said while glancing in Marcie's direction…… They both nodded and smiled as they clasped each other's hand…… A moment later, they turned and entered their vehicle ……

Mike and I stood there silently while they backed up and slowly drove away, David's smile etched permanently in our minds ……

I looked at Mike and he at me, his shrug and my raised eyebrows and smile all that comprised the communication between us…… And while we never spoke a word while completing our pre-ride checks, I sensed we were both thinking about what had just happened - and wondering how such a simple gesture of a moment's kindness to someone we didn't even know could've had such an impact on their lives…… It was all about that single moment and nothing of their past trials and tribulations…… We connected at an intersection of lives, each of us enriched by the experience…… And in the end, perhaps we had all shared the most valuable of our resources - our time ……

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And the photos? Each one on that roll turned out well - especially the last one of David on the GS…… I had the developer make me an extra 5 x 7 out of it…… It just looked so…… right…… in the simple metal frame I selected……

Paul was thankfully out of his office when I delivered it yesterday - his secretary was nice enough to allow me to place it on his desk…… I positioned it so he'd see it immediately upon his return - and directly beneath it, safely tucked into a white linen envelope, I'd written a note in my own hand ……

"Savor the special moments with those you love…… Enjoy all that comes your way today -- and in all the days to come ……"

I didn't sign my name - it just didn't seem all that important in the overall scheme of things and would probably only complicate something I thought should remain simple and innocent…… Besides, we both knew and understood - and that was more than enough for me…… I lingered there for a moment longer and then walked out of his office, thanking his secretary for her accommodation of my request ……

"Have a nice one……" she'd said…… Ahhh - and what a nice one it had been ……

 

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