(Editor’s Note: Writer and BEST blog contributor, Isaac Peterson, shares a beautiful and heartwarming story of friendship in his latest personal essay. Thank you Isaac for sharing your friend and important words with us. KT)

Let me tell you about my special friend, Gary.

Life hasn’t been especially kind to Gary.

He was born with a developmental and intellectual disabilities. He has some slightly deformed or not fully formed physical features, as well as a speech impediment that makes it hard for most people to understand his speech. 

Gary is my roommate in a room in what is called an adult family home. When I first arrived, I was kind of doubtful we’d be able to get along or communicate.

The author’s friend, Gary (courtesy photo)

It took a little while to warm up to Gary, but it really didn’t take long for us to form a strong, lasting bond. The first step was a time I encountered a couple of the other guys in this home taunting and bullying Gary. I stepped in and told them if I ever caught them doing that again, there would be hell to pay.

Whenever I would leave the room, Gary would ask, “Are you coming back?” I think he has a real fear of being abandoned as he has been too many times in his life.

I answered once, “Why? Do you want me to come back?” He said that he did and I asked once again, why. 

His reply was, “Because you don’t hit me.” And my heart broke.

I asked if I’d heard him right and he said he had been hit more than once. I embraced him and swore to him, “Nobody is ever going to hit you again.” And with that, the bond was complete.

Gary has a beautiful heart, and a kind, loving spirit, in spite of the hard life he’s lived. He loves children and animals, and when we are out in public, he approaches everyone we encounter and tries to make friends.

Gary trusts me to help him do some things like translating for him, whether on the phone or even face to face. Gary really looks up to me, and although I’m about a foot taller than he is, I don’t look down on him.

There is so much more to the story, but I told you this much to tell you what I’ve learned from him, or important lessons I’ve relearned from him.

First, he reminds me that even though I am disabled myself, I’m not worthless, that although it’s not in my power to change my condition overnight, I can still touch other people’s lives in meaningful ways. He reminds me I’m not as useless as I have felt at times.

Gary is a great example of patience, tolerance, understanding and compassion. Gary hasn’t experienced much of any of those things in his life. He is outwardly different than most other people, and despite the bad treatment he’s endured, he is not a bitter or angry man. He chooses to look for the good in people and to try to understand what makes other people the way they are—as he wishes others would do with him.

He doesn’t like people who try to change him, so he doesn’t try to change anyone else.

Gary appreciates the little joys life has to offer—he reminds me to stop and smell the roses.

Gary is also very sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.

Gary never gives up, and is rock solid in his determination to get past whatever challenges are in his way. Life has dealt him a worse hand than the one I’ve been dealt, a burden I don’t know whether I’d be able to shoulder.

There is much about the world that frightens him, but he puts his shoes on every day and ventures out in it regardless and that makes him one of the bravest people I know.

And he’s taught me the real meaning of something I read once, something like this: “Everyone I meet is in some way my superior in that I may learn from them.”

I have learned an awful lot from Gary and his kind, loving spirit, many of them things I’ll never be able to express in words. I learn something from Gary every day.

But one of the biggest, most important reminders I get from Gary is that kindness and gratitude cost nothing and go a long way. There is always room for kindness and showing your appreciation is an important thing to do because it reinforces the willingness in others to continue showing their own kindness.

All of these things have been important in my continued recovery. My dear, special friend Gary, is a reminder that to be positive is one of the most important things in life, and he helps me stay positive—which I wholeheartedly believe lights the path to recovery.

I would never have met Gary if I hadn’t experienced a massive stroke and lived through it, so he’s helped change my perspective about my life and life in general.

My life would be entirely different, and as he constantly tells me, we are friends forever.

And I look forward to that because knowing Gary has been good for us both, and he will always be my special friend, always reminding me how important it is to show the world the better part of my nature.

Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near  Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at isaac3rd@gmail.com.

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