Note: This piece will be published in the September/October issue of Neighbors of Batavia Magazine.
I recently learned a valuable, touching lesson from a man with aphasia. It’s a condition that makes communication difficult and afflicts two million people in the United States.
I have published eighty-eight essays for this page in Neighbors of Batavia magazine since March 2007. I am allowed to write whatever I happen to be contemplating as I sit down at my keyboard. Tim Sullivan, the publisher, has not changed a single word. I take the opportunity and responsibility seriously. Occasionally, the words come easily, but more often, considerable time is required to ensure what I am feeling, or a lesson learned, is fully conveyed when the final period or question mark completes the piece.
Over the years, I have received many compliments on the thoughts, and the words that deliver them. One day this past summer, I was walking the bike path—likely reading a book as I strolled—when a man came up from behind on his bicycle. “Are you Roger?” he asked. Whenever I get that question from a person I do not know, I can be fairly sure I have been recognized by the picture at the upper right. “I was riding the other way when I recognized you. I had to turn around to speak to you.” He told me he appreciated my essays, but there was one he found particularly meaningful. “My son suffers from anxiety and depression,” he explained. “It’s been exceedingly difficult; heart-breaking because my wife and I don’t know how to help. He is often angry because he does not understand why he has been singled out by these afflictions. You wrote a piece about encountering that on the suicide hotline, so I left a copy for my son in hopes he will read it and we can talk.” We strolled for another mile or so down the bike path and had an extended, heart-warming conversation. After we parted, I remember feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. If words given to me could open a life-affirming conversation between father and son, I am blessed.
But this piece is about aphasia, not anxiety and depression. There is a man at the gym I attend for whom walking is a challenge. I am always impressed by the determination he displays as he completes multiple laps around the track. One morning, as I was preparing to leave, I felt a tap on my shoulder, only to discover it was the gentleman I been appreciating a few moments earlier. He paused; it was clear he was struggling to find a word. Then, he asked “Batavia?” I acknowledged that yes, I live in Batavia. He struggled again and said, “I’m sorry, I suffer from aphasia.” I thanked him for helping me understand. It was clear he had something in particular in mind when he said, “That…that…” I wondered if he recognized me from my articles, so I took a small risk and asked if he was thinking about this magazine and my articles. He smiled and said “Yes…magazine articles. Thank you. That’s all,” and turned to walk away.
It is a gift when anyone tells me of a positive relationship they have found with my words. However, this man must, every day, summon the courage required to meet a world that can be cruel in the face of human challenges. That morning he found the courage to thank me for my words. In the ensuing hours, I was overwhelmed. Of all the kind and generous words used to describe these essays, it is the courage represented by these four, “Thank you. That’s all,” that still brings me to tears.
Many times, I have hesitated to say something to someone who I appreciate for fear that what I say will not be enough. I am reminded by this kind soul that it is always enough if the words are given with sincerity, kindness, and courage.