More Than a Jewel

by | May 21, 2006 | Humility, Trust

I’ve spent the last six years working with individuals who have mental disabilities and I’ve learned many things along the way, things you just don’t find in textbooks. I never really pictured being taught by one of my clients, but life is full of surprises.

Jewel is a lady I worked with as support staff. She was born with a brain injury. She loved bowling and cajoled me into being on a special team with her for a bowling event. I’m not a bowler but I knew she wanted me to be with her that night, to participate and for us to hang out together. I said yes.

We were at the bowling alley and the flashing lights and rotating disco balls were a bit more than what I’d pictured for a bowling alley. This was called moonlight bowling and so the regular lights were all off. The music, aimed at their usual Friday night crowd was rocking and rebounding off the walls.

When it was my turn I stood in this foreign territory and squinted down the long dimly lit lane wondering how I could possibly hit what I could barely see.

I let loose my first ball. It quickly located a gutter. Perhaps it was good they had dimmed the lights! I usually excel at sports but as I tried my hand at this one, my self-confidence took a nosedive. I knew nothing about bowling and it was apparent as I continued. Four frames into the night I just wanted to leave silently out the nearest exit. I felt awkward and looked inept. I needed help.

Jewel bowled in a ladies evening league, loved the game and her scores showed it. Feeling somewhat uncomfortable I asked her for some help. She was tickled.

“Okay,” she said, “You hold the ball like this and don’t bend the wrist. Now look ahead at those marks on the lane and then throw the ball. Okay?”

When I started showing a bit of improvement Jewel was the loudest in the cheering squad. She was really strutting in this new role of hers, as teacher. She was showing a confidence I’d never seen before, jumping up again and again to repeat the same tips.

I thought about telling her that I could now handle things. I was uncomfortable with the role of student or perhaps it was that I was uncomfortable with Jewel in the role of teacher. It was also most aggravating to hear the same tip repeated to me absolutely every time it was my turn but Jewel was basking in each moment, literally lighting up. I hated to take that away from her. I could see how important this evening had become for her.

Around strangers, Jewel is generally a shy reserved young woman. She flounders for words, stuttering when she is unsure of herself. Being the teacher was lifting her self-confidence to new heights. I could not burst her bubble. My lessons continued.

In the days that followed our bowling experience I saw small changes in Jewel. She made decisions that ordinarily she wouldn’t have. Her speech came easier with less stuttering. She seemed more assured.

I was so proud of this woman who had been born into this world with a brain injury. She had always worked hard to learn and then harder to remember what she had learned. She moved through life always with the handicap of those few thoughtless individuals who didn’t see her as just another person striving to be a part of her own culture. Fortunately Jewel overlooks thoughtless people. She is a lady with feelings and dreams. She loves to travel and would like some young man to see her as his girlfriend.

I was reminded of an important lesson that night at the bowling alley. Sometimes the teacher needs to let the student be the teacher. By asking for Jewel’s help I was in effect telling her, “I trust your judgment. I am listening to you Jewel because what you say is important.” By allowing Jewel to be the teacher I gave her an opportunity to shine. And she did.

Ellie Braun-Haley


More Than a Jewel