In highschool I decided that I wanted to help people with mental disabilities (at that time officially known as the "Trainable Mentally Retarded," AKA "Trainables" or "TMRs"). Our school had the region's largest TMR program, and every year we held the national TMR floor hockey tournament in our gymnasium (you can imagine the size of the crowd for THAT event).
Anyway, all of my good intentions went out the window when I saw Robbie -- one of the more notorious TMRs -- vomiting all over himself in the hallway. I just couldn't do it. For all my good intentions I don't like dealing with other people's bodily fluids, whether they're pooping their pants or just spraying me when they talk. And I quickly learned that I don't know how to talk to anybody who doesn't have at least average verbal skills...children included.
Vanilla recommended I watch "How's Your News," a documentary about a team of mentally and physically challenged people who travel across America asking people -- more or less -- "Hey, how's your news?"
I'm halfway through it and it's making me uncomfortable for several reasons. I don't like seeing people being put on the spot and feeling embarassed (which also dulls my enjoyment of Ali G. and his ilk), and many of the people being interviewed are definitely put on the spot; two of the interviewers have no speech skills whatsoever, so when people are confronted by a strange little man who speaks a gibberish language...well, the situation tends to be awkward.
Worse, however, is the fact that these two virtually mute interviewers are wearing cameras on their eyeglasses, so you get an all-too-real look at what it's like in their world: their arms reach out to people, and the people walk away and pretend not to see them.
The real crushing thing about all this is that *I* would probably walk away as well. I don't like being engaged by strangers on the street because 99% of the time they want something from me, and I suppose I'm just too selfish to barter with strangers. I also suffer a complete nervous breakdown when confronted with non-verbal people; I'm paranoid enough in well-oiled social situations, and I simply don't know how to "act naturally" around people with mental disabilities or severe physical disabilities. Part of me wants to be as patient and understanding as possible, while another part screams "you're being patronizing!" and the third part is frustrated with the whole situation.
Watching "How's Your News?" I have a great love for these people -- who really do seem like sweet souls -- and even though I don't believe *I* would make them happy (or vice versa), I'm thrilled when they meet wonderful, selfless, patient folks who know EXACTLY how to get along with them. And they certainly do, and I can't help thinking that if there's a heaven, those folks won't have to wait in line to get in.