(This clip will probably disappear when Apple discovers it.)
I was working as a children’s photographer at a Sears store. It was unfulfilling work. I had a pal I met in high school whose name was Terra. She was very pretty, was one of the prom queens, and had been in “swim timers”. She was also interested in service work. In high school I took photos of all the clubs. That’s how Terra and I became friends. She wanted some photos taken as a gift for the man who later became her husband. I shot a few rolls at scenic places in natural light, cropped, edited, and printed the results. When the subject is beautiful, it’s so easy.
I used to visit her for tea every few weeks. Terra liked me because I was funny, and we enjoyed talking about spiritual subjects. She suggested I ought to try volunteering where she did. It was a home for severely mentally impaired children. Out of 50, three or four could sit up by themselves. One of my favorites could speak a little. Her name was Anita, and she was blind, but still mischievous. She liked hiding the knowledge of her own name as a secret. If you wanted to amuse her, you would ask, “Who is this girl?” She would giggle, and finally relent, saying “A-ni-ti-ta!”
One of my other favorites was Annie. She was about 10, but her body was the size of a six year-old. She could not speak words, but she had clear preferences. If you said, “Annie, how about some chocolate pie?” she would smile, coo, and pull herself up on her arms. I held her in my arms like a baby and gave her water or juice. Holding her was like a version of the pieta. I took a picture of Annie at the Sears studio and carried it in my wallet for 20 years.
I was curious about what kind of stimulus might get through to these kids. In one of the closets on the ward, I discovered a 16mm projector. I decided to get a film through inter-library loan. I got a copy of Chuck Braverman’s Oscar-winning 1973 short “Condensed Cream of Beatles”. The film is an animation montage by a director known for those clip shows produced for the Oscar telecast each year.
We showed the film on a sheet taped to the wall. The caregivers were seated on the floor with their kids. When the Beatles songs began blasting out, the kids started moving in time to the music. They laughed and rocked and waved their arms happily all the way through. So did the workers. The supervisor of the ward said she had never seen anything like it.
All these children died young. It was a home for the most hopeless cases. It was my first experience in selfless service, in trying to care lovingly for those who could do nothing for themselves. I’m not a remarkable person, but I can say it changed me for the better, forever.