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-Tell them George….

-OK… Lennie… 

Stirring in my bed in the darkness, the fragile voice of Lennie intruded through my semi-awake state.

Lennie was getting worked up like a small child on Christmas morning, excited and wanting to share his enthusiasm in the same way that he got enthusiastic about petting little fluffy bunnies, soft furry mice, and rambunctious puppies.

And –  with no harm intended – young ladies’ pretty dresses.

Lennie just liked to touch soft things.

Have you read Of Mice and Men?… John Steinbeck’s beautiful masterpiece of two itinerant Depression-era farm workers in Southern California?

Did you see coverall-clad George and Lennie in the movie? Gold-toned cinematography capturing the simple dreams, and also the difficult but loving camaraderie between actors Gary Sinise (George) and John Malkovich (Lennie)?

Heartlifting and heartbreaking… just like real people’s lives. Muffled tears melt through my heart’s lining and ooze out my pores.

As a youngster and teenager, I harboured a soft spot for the little guy, the dark troubled souls, the odd man out.

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When I read Of Mice and Men, I think of my childhood friend John Z.

I say friend, but John was really a mere acquaintance, someone I knew and said hi to while passing on the wide echoing stairs beside the music room of Glendale High.

We never hung out or did stuff together after school, although we did chatter to each other each day while sharing a bench seat on the bus trip to day camp one summer. I never went to his house or met his family.

John was a lot like Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

John was big and strong like Lennie, but sweetly gentle unless provoked, just like Lennie.

He had a condition called hydrocephalus. John’s head was enlarged from fluid that accumulated in his head as a child.  His head spread out like an upside-down pyramid, narrow at the chin and unnaturally wide above the dark brown hair line, his broad forehead was intersected by eyes that were narrow slits when he smiled.

John was mentally “slow”.

He liked to laugh, really loudly. And when he was happy, John would yell out a boisterous “BAHOO!

I can hear his voice in my head still, all these years later.

John was a friendly fella living peaceably in a world, an era, that was mostly unfriendly to the “different” souls amongst us.

He took a lot of ribbing and ridicule from some of the hormonal teenage boys, mainly the jock crew who made mocking others their daily routine, like a sacred ritual of self-aggrandizement within their Temple of Jock’dom.

While I never joined in on the “fun” of poking jabs at John, I also never said or did anything to head off the bullies that tormented poor John daily.

I wanted to. I steamed inside, but as a small guy I was in self-protection mode, more determined to lay “low” and avoid any bullying thrown my way. There was a Darwinian survival protocol that drifted like a sweat-scented fog through the school hallways.

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Today, I’m here finally… belatedly… to thank John and others like him who played a part in my early decision to make my occupational choice a “helping” career.

I was a medical lab tech for 37 years. I helped people. I hope.

The impotence I sometimes felt during those early school years were part of what motivated me to try to assist others who were struggling.

It could seem a stretch to suggest that high school bullying was what made me decide to jab needles in people’s arms, sucking out their blood and then testing the plasma and serum, seeking answers to their sicknesses and discomforts.

There are thin threads, minor rivers of connections that run through our minds.

Our daily experiences often seem meaningless or tenuous, yet they quietly mill about within our sub-conscious where the work of deeper understanding is done, weighing and parsing and figuring out what makes sense.

Those “helping” connections led me to the medical career that occupied more than three decades of my life.

It could as easily have taken me into other obvious choices such as police or firefighting, teaching or social work, a non-profit manager or an ombudsman.

And helping others can come in many less obvious forms.

The folks who pick up my garbage make my life easier and happier. The software writers that allow me to write a blog or access my bank accounts simply are heroes in my life. Truck drivers that deliver food supplies to my local supermarket keep me well nourished (and then some!).

Helping is often more subtle and broadly-based than we appreciate.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the book Of Mice and Men, as the law begins to close in, sweet Lennie heartbreakingly, unknowingly to him, meets his merciful death at the hand of his friend George.

Back in my own world, I did a Google search on my childhood friend John this week. I haven’t seen or heard a word of him since high school.

Sadly, I discovered that he died 7 years ago, 55 years old. His obituary picture looks just like the John I remember when you add in some lines and wrinkles, a few grey-streaked flecks adorning his temples.

His passing didn’t truly surprise me… but it did strike a nerve, an aching, sensitive scab was pulled back inside of me. I hurt for John then, and I hurt for John today.

John never knew it, and I’m even slow to understand it myself, but his struggles helped teach me a simple lesson: if you have a reason to get out of bed that is bigger than you, you will have a big life.

If you only help yourself, you live a small life.

Thank You John … rest now good soul…

-George?

-Shhhhh… it’s Ok Lennie… I told them…

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