This week’s Featured Story is, A Timeless Classic: Jeff Ross’s Story as told by his mother, Ann Marie Ross. Below is the author’s account of capturing the story.
As I drove up the drive that scaled a hill and leveled to an area filled with fountains and singing birds, my face was met with an intensity of the mid-afternoon Indiana summer sun beaming through my open windows. I had an uncertain feeling in my tummy that was telling my brain to put it into reverse and floor it down the hill. Before I could get the gear from “P” to “R,” a tall and slender woman with a bright smile came around the corner and greeted me with a wave.
“I take it you’re J.R.,” she said.
“I am,” I replied as I got out of my car, “Ann Marie?”
She nodded, “Let’s go this way to the back room so we can have some privacy.”
This was my first meeting with Ann Marie to learn about her son, Jeff, a forty-six year old with intellectual disabilities. She was my “assignment” for Facing Disabilities in East Central Indiana.
Writing for The Facing Project has let me into the lives of so many people, and each first encounter is much like the above. I walk into every situation a little naïve, extremely nervous, not sure what I’m getting into, thinking about an escape, but I always walk away feeling a strong connection because I have to go to the deepest, darkest, and brightest places to capture the essence of the storyteller’s voice.
On that August day I spent four hours with Ann Marie, covering life before Jeff to discussing Jeff’s life without her once she and her husband are gone. We laughed, we cried, and then came the moment we had to say goodbye.
“Thank you,” she said with a laugh, “for listening to me ramble.”
“I’m sorry I made you cry,” I said through an apologetic giggle, “I’ll get the story written up and back to you soon for your approval.”
Back at home, as I poured through hours of tape and notes, I was most struck by Ann Marie’s continual reference to the words “classic” and “old.”
“Jeff is a classic case.”
“Those old spelling board games.”
“Back in those days.”
“Well, we have a classic car.”
In juxtaposition, she referred often to youth.
“As the world has grown up around him, Jeff has remained young in many ways.”
When I began to capture Ann Marie’s voice onto the page, the angle I chose to go with her story was to illustrate to the reader that we are all essentially the same, young and old, disabled or not, but sometimes our exteriors and interiors are modified based on life, and, in the end, it’s our differences that actually bring us together.
I concluded Ann Marie’s story with some wisdom that she left with me that that can be applied to any situation.
I’ve come to realize we’re all just passengers in classic car exteriors. Some are changed. Some are unusual. Some stay the same. It’s what binds us. Our differences.”
I came into the situation wanting to flee because Ann Marie appeared on the surface to be different than me. I wasn’t sure I could capture her voice. She’s a woman; I’m a man. She’s in her mid-60s; I’m in my mid-30s. She has a beautiful home with rolling land; I live in a 1,600 square foot ranch with my neighbor only 10 feet away. She has an adult son with disabilities; I’ve never even flirted with the idea of having children.
While we get wrapped up in what makes us different, we can lose sight of what makes us the same. We are all driving cars down the road of life. All of our cars are different, but the road of life binds us. Had I not been “assigned” to capture Ann Marie’s story, I’m not sure I would have seen her on the street and thought we had anything in common. Yet during our time together, I came to realize how similar our paths have been.
Take the time to understand the path driven by the car before you, or, as we like to say at The Facing Project, “Carry the weight of their story.” This world needs more empathy and a little more common ground.
This week’s Featured Story is, A Timeless Classic: Jeff Ross’s Story as told by his mother, Ann Marie Ross.