I returned from a few days off and found out that I had been ‘allocated’ the job of embedding myself within the community at a school. Not just any school, but one of those special schools. One of those schools where children and young adults with severe learning difficulties, mental and physical mountains to climb go. These places are quietly in the background and for the most part lost to their general existence. I checked the rosters and sure enough. I saw that I was the chosen one. There was no no way out. This duty was mine and everyone else had, by some strange and wonderful miracle of fate, got themselves other things to do keep themselves occupied.
A quick phone call was made and the visit confirmed, subject to the usual operation commitments taking precedence. At the time anything would have done.
I arrived at the place and could see the staff and helpers arranging the assorted wheelchairs, trolleys and rows of chairs for the kids who could walk with little or no help. The audience was to be in the shade under some trees. Everyone from the school was there. All the staff were there. All the volunteer helpers had volunteered for the day and were there. All the children were there, they normally are. Lots of parents, family members and carers were there. I was there. At that time I would rather of been somewhere else. Anywhere else, but not here.
I was seeing, all these people. My perception was one of not really giving a toss and my understanding was just about nil.
I was introduced and then I began to talk. Some of the children were clearly not at the level of my normal school visits so I tried to appear gentle, deliberate and calm as I talked and moved about. I spoke for a few minutes and had absolutely no recollection of what I was saying over the groans, shouts and grunts from my audience.
As planned, I left the shade of the trees and my audience. I walked to my van to get out my companion and return to the centre of the stage. I was worried that someone or something would cause the dog to take chunks out of these unfortunate children.
The shouts and groans stopped as though they were somehow interested. Suddenly they were not just children with all manner of unfortunate mental and physical problems. They became small people. How could the addition of one dog have such an amazing effect. I began to see and my perception changed but I still could not understand.
I put the dog down in various places close to the rows of people. The dog remained surprisingly calm and did not seem worried at all. This was the animal that has taken lumps out of people and the restraint and calm belied the seething turmoil that is sometimes unleashed when the signals are right.
Without any prompting I looked, to my surprise and concern, at my canine companion who had got up and walked slowly towards a girl who was a mass of belts and straps that held her in place in a specially designed wheelchair. He moved ever so gently to her face, sniffed her and began to deliberately and carefully lick her cheek.
She immediately began to convulse and appeared to be having some form of seizure. The staff and volunteer helpers nearby burst into spontaneous applause and my initial horror at what I thought was taking place subsided to enormous relief. She was going to keep her head and I needn’t have been worried. I even noticed that some of the people were crying.
I continued for several more minutes before placing my boy back into the security of my van and returned, relieved, to the building for the regulation discussion over a cup of tea with the head before I left.
I was greeted by excited gibbering that left me wondering who were the staff and who were the people they were helping. It turned out that this was the greatest display of just about anything by way of emotion and movement that they had seen from this girl and they were overwhelmed with genuine tears of joy, disbelief and thanks. I had done nothing.
I began to see. I saw that there were people here. Small people with all manner of hurdles and barriers to what I had considered a normal life, that they and the dedicated staff and helpers who supported them, supported the families and carers to help give them a level of fulfillment and achievement that only they comprehend. This may not have been normal to me but for them, normal was exactly what it was. These people were special. The staff, volunteer help, families and carers are truly dedicated and deal with a level of frustration that needs a sense of determination and patience that leaves me in a very humbling position.
My perception changed based on what I seen.
My understanding changed because of my perception of what I had seen. It is not just about looking, but seeing what is there. I mean really seeing, perceiving differences and getting a greater understanding.
All because of my dog, who had no barriers or pre-conceived ideas, just reacted to something he saw, perceived or understood in his doggy mind.
I was not sufficiently blind to have missed this and I am richer for it.
I wonder if this school will still be open next year ?
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