It’s a Living Community

Posted: March 25, 2015 in Humour

robert   When I moved back to Sturgeon Falls in 1987, I lived with my parents for a year close to the local mill. It was awesome returning to the place I pined for since we had left it in 1974. No matter where I lived and worked, I always imagined I would come back and live in a place that I just couldn’t shake. And sure enough, I have remained here, met and married the love of my life, raised two kids and four fur babies, been self-employed, and now live in my boyhood house, something I had dreamt of but never thought I would realize.

During all this time, there have been many changes locally, and also many constants. We are still a chip-stand-French-English-between-cities type of people. A very giving community that at times has difficulty articulating its own culture and beliefs being drowned out by larger communities and centers. One of my favorite things, locally at least, is our chapter of Community Living, which is a non-profit, provincial association that advocates for people who have an intellectual disability to be fully included in all aspects of community life. For my own reasons, and those of my wife’s, we are as involved as much as we can with them, which is not enough but will have to do for now.

There is a point to all this. His name is Robert. He is a life-long participant, partner, member, and local fixture of Community Living. Those who know him have seen him delivering the newspaper, camera slung over his shoulder, cigarette in his mouth. When he walked he rarely swung his arms. If you didn’t know him, he just looked like a guy walking around doing his thing. But if you got to know him, and talk to him, you would find out what a gem hi really is.

I first met him sitting behind him and his sister at church when I was just going out with Anne. His sister would look at us with her playful eyes, holding a Cabbage Patch doll or an Alf doll, and the hour-long church service would melt away magically. By then they would have been in their 30’s or 40’s, innocent in their very special way. We fell in love with them. How could we not?

Over the years, as we’ve come to know Robert more, it became so evident that this man was an artist and a talented photographer. His photos were turned into calendars every year that sold out almost immediately. I am proud to say that this community didn’t buy these because they wanted to encourage him….they were a hit because of his ‘eye’, that rare gift amongst photographers that is essential in their craft.

6 years ago, Robert dallied into painting as an art form. Not for long, mind you, but long enough to turn out the gem I have posted here which we purchased at auction. His one and only painting. He told me this at the auction, which was one of the reasons I bought it. If he was only ever going to do one, I wanted it.

Robert is now in the hospital, suffering from cancer. I do not know his family situation, if any. He does not have long. Community Living has been providing all they can to ease his suffering, making sure someone keeps him company, providing him the dignity he so richly deserves. I visited him today and am it took the wind out of my sails, I have to say. He couldn’t say much, could barely talk, and it was a short visit….but I am so glad I went. I will go as often as I can until the day he will no longer be with us. Not because I am anyone special to him, but because he is so special to me.

Robert is a reminder to me that we are all vulnerable to the frailties of the human body, and that innocence should be guarded and cared for. As a community, we need to keep the spirit of what our agency does for the ones who need our help and respect. That WE are part of their family. I can only imagine he grief of those who are truly close to Robert, the men and women of West Nipissing Community Living who are the shield of our compadres. I have the utmost respect and admiration for them, because it’s not just a job. It’s a family.

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