Sunday, August 30, 2009
Everything I Need to Know I Learned from New Kenny
I learned a lesson a couple of days ago that made me stop and think about how jaded my perception of the human race is now that I’m into my forties. I have always been one to secretly snicker at those folks that proclaim every day to be “the best day ever”. You know those people. They always have a smile on their face, and even though the cat ran away, the toilet overflowed, and they don’t have two nickels to rub together, doggone it, today’s going to be a great day. I hate to admit it, but the older I get, the more I just assume that most people are jerks or witless morons, and I’m happier keeping to myself. That seemed to be working fine for me until Friday morning.
For you to understand, you need to know a boy named Kenny. When we moved into our house four years ago, Kenny was fifteen years old. I knew right away that he was different from other teenagers when he came up to my doorstep pulling a little red wagon and selling popcorn for the Boy Scouts. You wouldn’t find Kenny cruising the mall looking to pick up chicks. Instead, you would find him cruising the neighborhood on his bicycle, chatting up the moms out in the yards watching their children. He seemed to delight in showing off his family’s Yorkies and talking about NASCAR to anyone who would lend him an ear. He was quick with a hearty wave and a big grin.
Although I never heard it officially, I just always assumed that Kenny was mentally handicapped on some level. Others confirmed that they assumed the same thing. Even still, his parents let him be a normal kid. So, one night in May of 2007, he was sleeping over at a friend’s house. For reasons we’ll never know, he decided he wanted to go home. He left his friend’s house late in the evening, and, unbeknownst to either set of parents, he set out on foot down a dark and busy highway. Unfortunately, Kenny never made it home. As he walked down the side of the road that evening, a drunk driver hit him, and fled the scene. Kenny died alone on the side of the road that night. (And yes, the drunk, under-aged moron that hit him was captured and prosecuted.)
Fast forward to this year. As I have been out on my runs, I’ve noticed another young man on his bike around the neighborhood. He is a good bit older than Kenny, but still quick with a friendly smile and wave. He dutifully wears his helmet, and is frequently seen chatting up the gray-haired homeowners as they check their mail or anyone out walking their dog who happens to cross his path. It made me feel good that we have a “New Kenny” as I have taken to calling him. Although I haven’t had the pleasure of engaging New Kenny in conversation, I figured that he, too, was mentally challenged in some way and probably lived with his parents or other relatives. Why did I assume this about him? Because what other adult male do you know who spends his free time joyriding on a bike and grinning and waving at everyone? The only time I see other men in our neighborhood outside is when they are mowing the lawn.
During my run Friday morning, I was coming around the corner to New Kenny’s house as he was coming out - in a suit - carrying a briefcase - and getting into a BMW. I was shocked. This was no mentally handicapped guy heading off to the workshop with the other adults from the group home. This was a successful businessman who has a bigger house and nicer car than I do. Oh yes, he was smiling as he motioned for me to go in front of him and then waved again as he pulled away from me, happily on his way to the office to make someone else’s day brighter, I’m sure.
It speaks volumes about me that I couldn’t imagine a grown man could be so happy as to smile at everyone who crosses his path, and enjoy a pleasure ride on his bicycle any chance he gets. He’s not mentally handicapped. He’s happy! How can someone endure the same pressures as me – mortgage, kids, job, - and do it with a grin? I don’t have the answer. I do know this, though. I have a lot to learn from New Kenny.