Try to be more understanding and more kind

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

— Audre Lorde

With all my searching for “special days” that we recognize, I found that in October we have a Mental Illness Awareness Week and in March we have a Mental Health Awareness month which are recognized as special days. I believe this is something worth giving some thought to. So I would like to share with you some of my thoughts. And, as I occasionally do, I’ll start with a true story.

March 6, 1947, I started full-time work at Tiffin Glass. It was the day I turned 16 years old. In those days, Tiffin Glass was called “the glass house.” And, if I’m not mistaken, the glass house was one of the first factories in Tiffin that employed women.

My story is about a man named Jimmy who worked there. Jimmy was a very nice person and treated everyone with kindness and respect. I wish I could say that’s the way everyone treated him. Sad to say, not everyone did. You see, Jimmy was mentally challenged or, as we said in those days, mentally retarded.

One of the “fun” things a lot of the guys did was to occasionally send someone to the blacksmith shop and get a “pipe stretcher.” Sending someone after a pipe stretcher was like sending them to go get a left-handed monkey wrench. Of course, there are no such things. When the person asked for one, they were given something to carry over to the person who asked. So far, I see nothing really wrong with that, as long as it doesn’t go too far and they do not try to make the person look like a fool.

But one day, it did go too far; that was the day someone asked Jimmy to go and get a pipe stretcher.

So he went to the blacksmith shop and said, “They need a pipe stretcher out there.” That’s when it got way out of hand. The guy at the blacksmith shop said, “Oh, Jimmy, we had one here, but we just took it up to the machine shop. Why don’t you just go up there and get it?”

Here’s the problem; the machine shop was on the second floor. There was quite a flight of steps to get there. So he went up and told them he needed a pipe stretcher. What did they give him? Something small and lightweight because he had to carry it down the step? Oh, no; after all, this was Jimmy.

What they gave him was a heavy piece of something made from steel. It reminded me of a barbell that weightlifters used. Jimmy carried it down the steps and gave it to the guy who asked for it. Some of the guys got a good laugh out of it. But I have often wondered how the person felt when Jimmy handed him his “pipe stretcher.”

So, what’s my point? Am I writing this so others can read it, give it some thought and perhaps try to be a little more understanding and kinder to those who have this handicap? No, not just for others, but for all of us, including me. You see, (please don’t tell my kids I said this) when I was very young, I was not lily white when it came to things like this. I remember many years ago I and some of the others would joke about someone who was different. Nothing serious, but we did some teasing because we thought it was fun. As I think about it, I am ashamed. So I am not just preaching to others. As I write, I think about what I’m saying and see where I need to make some adjustments.

I think we all run into others who have such problems. Maybe we should all think about this and just try to be a little more understanding and a little kinder.