Landmark programme

Essay by sflam February 2006

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I taught him something new.

"Eat" and "boat" were the only two words he knew, yet he said these two simple words with enthusiasm and passion. When he smiled, his hazel eyes glimmered with curious innocence and his lips curled in naive playfulness: childish, but sincere. He laughed at the ordinary things in life -- a butterfly fluttering on a leaf, a ball rolling across the asphalt -- but his laughs always rang joyously, untainted by worry.

Nervous, but eager, I arrived for the Landmark program in Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire, only to find Kory's outstretched arms ready for a bear hug. I looked at him, uneasy and hesitant. There he stood before me, all five-foot-nine of him, with a silly grin revealing two rows of crooked teeth. Immediately, I was astonished, repulsed, and a little frightened. He looked disheveled and dirty, yet he oozed innocent confidence. I had never interacted with the mentally challenged before, and I had no idea what to expect.

I reluctantly took a step forward, into his extended arms, into a new world.

"Sam, " I tried to teach him, in hopes of throwing another shiny quarter into his bank of two words. He stared at me blankly, questioning the sounds that came out of my mouth. He slowly formed a bemused expression that seemed to indicate those quarters might never shine.

At first our time together was very awkward; I didn't know what to say to him, and he didn't have much to say to me. After the first day, however, I realized that, although Kory couldn't converse, he enjoyed just listening to me and playing with me. In fact, after spending a week with Kory, my own communication skills improved markedly. I discovered the power of eye contact, facial expressions, and...