A Person Worthy Of Notice Has Passed Away

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Many years ago, when I worked for the County of Alameda, I met a young man who was an absolute joy and pleasure to be around. His outlook on the world was one that has been kept in the forefront of my memory every since then.

Some of his favorite, repetitive statements were things like:

"Ya gotta pay attention!"

“Ya just gotta do the best you can at everything.”

“If a job ain't worth doing right, it's probably not a job worth doing.”

“Sometimes I wish I was the sun, so I could warm everybody around me too.”

“I don't have time to count peanuts, I've gotta go do...”

“I don't understand why they don't just hire the best person they can in the White House and keep 'em around for 20 years like other countries.”

“I love my job, it gives me independence.”

I could go on reminiscing, but that's not what this is about, rather the joy some people bring to our world. “Kenny” was a Caretaker Assistant for the Parks Division and in the 5 years of my working there, he had been out sick only once and he had accumulated nearly two months worth of vacation time. He couldn't be in the Union – SEIU 616- due to his employment status, but “when he made permanent” he would be joining our ranks. As the Shop Steward for the workers, “Kenny” frequently asked me questions about union rules, regulations and was extremely retentive on everything I told him.

Kenny” got rave reviews from supervisors and crew alike, he was a true joy to be around. Even in the menial tasks he performed, like a seasoned professional, everything he did was evidence of his job being one worth doing right. He kept us thinking with his quips and points of view that seemed to have come from a place of complete logic. His demeanor was pure and infectious. You couldn't help but laugh and bring your Self into a whole new sphere of bliss being around him while working. There just never seemed to be any dreary drudgery of work, regardless of what job we might be doing.

Kenny” was a gift to the world of a pure heart and man of integrity, intensity and completely different type of intelligence. I don't recall him ever speaking poorly of another nor saying a single disparaging word against anyone. He was more acutely attentive and aware of his surroundings than most people I've worked with.

What brings “Kenny” to mind, is he passed away January 29, 2011. I find this serendipitous due to recently having responded to a topic, that among many other things, reflected how it often seems that those who engage the world and try to keep up with technology, headlines, policies and economies, are the dreary ones, and the others who don't seem to be the happy ones in our society. We get so caught up in foreign and domestic policies, oil and resources bantering, global climate changes and effected economies and so on, that we forget things that really matter to us. There is a mountain of resource material for just about any business, personal or political topic or issue you'd ever wish to debate or discuss. And boy, do we ever take advantage of that. Many of us will debate issues that, in the end, have zero effect or impact on our lives, but the conversation "was stimulating", which means of course we got completely wrapped up in it!

To many of us, following the mantras and headlines of the world is a worthy use of our limited time. Others find a myriad of various other forms of interests and many dabble in the political and business forums as a means of staying in touch with the world. However, I feel there is a big difference between “staying in touch” with the world's events and being compulsively attempting change or submissively adhering to a particular issue. I so often wish I too could detach to a degree similar to my old co-worker “Kenny”. I find that far too regularly I subject myself to several hours, over a few days, of media news headlines, just to “keep up with the world”. For the past twenty-ish years this has rarely done more than aggravate me to no end and usually gets me to tense up both physically and Spiritually.

Through our conversations I learned that “Kenny” rarely watched news on TV and usually just played his favorite movies on VHS for entertainment. A crack up remark about news anchors was:"How can I take someone serious if I don't know if their pants match their suit jacket? I always think they're hiding something because we can't see all of them." Yet he knew the script word for word on such timeless Hollywood hits as “The Jungle Book”, "Shane", "Old Yeller" and the original “Wizard of Oz”. He often would interject lines from these classics into our conversations and did a perfect impersonation of the Cowardly Lion, often using a hose for his "tail". If "Kenny" was having a good time with a conversation and work would take one person elsewhere, he would often run after the truck "Shane! Come back Shane! Sha-a-a-a-a-ne!" keeping the humor going as long as possible.

Kenny” just seemed to have a completely different outlook on the world than most of us. He would frequently mimic news anchors, including the classic stance of his left hand up to his ear “that was great Tom (Brokaw), now back to you Walter (Cronkite)!” ending with “and that's the way it is...”. He told me on several times that he felt the 'news' was simply "edited information for the those who didn't understand the world as it really is.

Mostly, “Kenny” just believed that the TV was nicknamed the boob-tube for good reason “'cause only boobs, you know, like the dumb bird, believe what they put on for us to watch is the truth.”

When I would ask him questions regarding “God” or religion he also had profound words of wisdom. "Church is wherever you happened to be whenever you happened to be there!" Another frequent commentary that always made me chuckle was "What religion is God? If he believes in himself, like people do, wouldn't that make him a narcissist? If he doesn't, wouldn't that make him an atheist?" How can anyone argue such logical thinking? If someone would say something derogatory against any of our many church going workers at the Department, “Kenny” would be the first to pipe-up with “Never take somebody's hope, it may be all they have” or other timeless statements like ”if that's what floats their boat, don't be a obstacle in their waters” a saying he said his “Umpa”, his mother's father, would say all the time. He told me he did go to church when he was a kid and he thought the principle was “...good, because they didn't make you pay for the service until it was almost over!” He rationalized that was to give you a chance to see if the preacher's words were "worth payin' for or not", and wished movies were "like that."

He was also very concerned about worker safety and working conditions. Even though he couldn't be a Union member until he went permanent, I waived protocol for him and allowed him attend Union Meetings, unless of course there was a vote or other reasons he couldn't. He had read the works of Karl Marx and even Adolf Hitler but could never understand why these men, with such great insight for humanity did the “evil and mean things” the history books claimed they did. When I worked there we appointed "Kenny" our unofficial Safety Officer. He held that position officially for 17 years after becoming permanent. He petitioned and received authorization for nearly every idea or plan he came up with regarding the safe working conditions for the entire Department.

He also knew not everyone could be rich and that the workers were the “engine that ran the train of society” and that without them, no one could be rich. The civic process that “Kenny” looked forward to the most was election day, whether it was a local or national ballot. During the 1988 election he cracked us all up with his evaluation of whether or not “the bad man or the worse man” was going to become president. After G.H.W. Bush won the election, we asked him if it was the bad or worse man that got into office, to wit he said “neither, the people voted and found him to be the best man for the job!” He also thought that President Bush would do more for the struggling workers, "because his daddy taught him respect for business", something that many still claim today.

But the one thing that always brought a smile to my face was “Kenny's” never ending faith in the simplicity of Life. The “KISS Principle” as we are all familiar with (Keep it Simple Stupid) also had his own flare and pertinent statement behind it “Kenny is Seriously Simple”. Yes he was, but I can not emphasize how brilliant he was in clarity of thinking as well work ethic and helpfulness towards others. Our bosses often thought they were being demeaning when they'd say “If 'Kenny' can do it, why can't you?” Because “Kenny” wasn't like the rest of us. He was special and from a place in this Universe no one could ever have imagined. He truly was different than everyone else and in a manner of which most of us could only hope to be.

Kenny” was a very rare person having both Downs Syndrome and being Autistic. His mother, whom he adored, would arrive at Winters Parks everyday at 3:58, on the dot, to pick him up from work. She mentioned several times that “'Kenny' was the easiest of all four of my boys in raisin', he just always did right. I never had to scold him once! That is “except the time” he was about 5 and got caught taking cookies from the cooling rack before the appropriate time. He has liked hot, melt in your mouth, cookies ever since.

To be around “Kenny” was like a day of vacation where nothing seemed to matter, except what was right there in the Now. He had an ordered chaos in his humble Life that seemed to exude his very essence of personality and there was always an inner joy expressed from him that I have seem few times in this world. It was the same type of feeling one got talking with people like the Dali Lama, Ghandi or even Deepak Chopra, who said “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” There was a calm serenity that enveloped the air around you when you talked to “Kenny”.

How often have all wished we could find that calm spot in our hectic lives? That moment of serenity that is needed to calm our body and quiet our over active minds. In short, when a person has simply had enough of the chaos and calamity in Life.

We, as humans, seem to take on way more baggage in our lives than is necessary. Keeping tabs on the world from one headline to the next could consume a person's life due to so much information available to the average info-phile today. Between TV and our Internet connections we literally have the world at our fingertips. As a learning and business tool, excellent. As a Spiritual Distraction in Life, not so good. So many people have claimed to not sense or feel any connection to anything “greater” or in any way “supreme” to us. It's terrifying to my Self, to think that only a small minority of folks in today's society claim to have knowledge of this emotional attachment to the Universe. Perhaps if they weren't so distracted by all the other things going on in the world they could find their connection to their Spiritual Nature.

But what about those few folks we come across in our own busy lives that seem to be free of all the baggage and are happy, content and well rounded? They don't take life any less serious than others, rather, they just look at the events in Life through a completely different set of eyes. Eyes that seem to see things in a completely different way than we do. “Kenny” was one such person. For instance, he didn't see tragedy in a massive earthquake (1989 - 6.9 Loma Prieta - SF Bay Area) he saw it as a means to show the "true character of those who weren't injured or had their property destroyed." By the time Earl G., Winters Park Supervisor, got to his outpost after the quake (we all had assigned duties during such events), "Kenny" had already string-staked out the camping area for tents, set up the water distribution tanks, pulled out and unlocked the port-a-potties and had the emergency generator ready to be started. All within less than 30 minutes of the quake.

So regardless of the labels put on people who are afflicted with one medically defined syndrome or another, maybe they aren't the ones in need of our help but the other way around? Maybe those of us who feel we have the definitions and terminology 'just so' should pause for a moment and really listen to our colleagues, neighbors and friends. Listening to each other may be one process for defining the undefinable or unknowable on levels we haven't considered yet.

There is one aspect of this whole thought line that has stirred up the questions in me for many years; If these 'types of people' are so in need of our 'help', why is it that they bring so much joy to our lives? All the while the doctors, researchers and the public at large show these gentle spirits very little genuine compassion beyond momentary regard? Why are they the ones singled out and made fun of or humiliated in many cases? Especially over "conditions" they had no control over receiving as Life's hand of cards.

No, I don't think that because we have a medical term to place on people it is necessarily the best description. Often, I think, it is indeed jealousy and envy that gets in our way of seeing the Truth. Of course Down's and Autism have drawbacks to living within this society, but can you imagine having absolute clarity of insight in such matters as our own Spiritual Nature?

We would think that if we were the one's with the “smarts” we would be treating them the way they treat everyone else. That was the “theme” of “Kenny's” Memorial last week, Living with Dignity and Respect.

He worked a total of 26 years for the Parks Department and spent 21 of those as a Permanent Status worker. “Kenny” worked his regular schedule right up until a few days before he passed away. He had 251 days of “sick leave” still on the books and nearly a year's worth of vacation time saved up. He was cited for being the only employee in Park Department History for doing so among the many other Awards he had received for Community Service. At 43 years old “Kenny” also passed a few milestones for those with Down's Syndrome, being one of the oldest living people with this bio-chemical malady. According to his family,“Kenny's” doctor said everyday past 30 was “gift from God” and how can anyone argue with that?

Kenny” was also a four time recipient of Alameda County's Worker of the Year citation, a two time winner of the City of Oakland's Community Service Award and was known by nearly everyone of the Department's 1,300 some odd employees. He had also received numerous awards and certificates from groups such as the Kiwanis, Rotary and Lion's Clubs and made a special appearance at the 2010 election results in Sacramento as a featured guest of Jerry Brown. He was a bright spot in everyone's day and I'm certain he will be missed greatly.

Kenny's” accomplishments in Life may not be that impressive to some people but to those that knew him, it was just the icing on the cake for an expression of his stalwart example of “How to Live Right”. As far as I, or any others knew, “Kenny” did not have a particular religion that he followed, rather he would attend services at just about any sanctuary, synagogue or temple that friends would bring him to. His mother “Carolyn” said he identified the best with the Dali Lama and Buddhism, but never really followed any one religious path. One vacation his mother said he always wanted to take, was to Tibet so he could make sand mandala's with any one of the Lama's, "because the Dali himself would probably be busy!". She also said that of course he had the opportunity to follow which ever religious path felt best to him but he just never saw the need.

Upon reflection perhaps his lasting legacy to religious thinking is the statement he would often repeat. God knows who I am, and that's good enough for me. If he would've wanted me to know first His name and where He lives, He would have told me! You have to pay attention to these things!” which was the inscription on his headstone and the rest was printed on his Memorial Bulletin.

This is one person I know the world will miss even though the “world” didn't know him personally, it does know his type of energy. A clean, unspoiled, truly happy energy that is so rare to find. Even in my thoughts of loss I can't help but smile knowing I knew a great man of such high moral and ethical standards. My only real regret is that I didn't take the time out of my Life to spend more of it with this genuine and uplifting person. His was a Spiritual Life lived, that most others only read about or attempt to intellectualize.

Blessings to you “Kenny”, may you now know complete and utter Peace in your new adventure of Spirit. And while you are 'out there' zooming around, don't forget to “Pay Attention my friend!” and I will do the same, being vigilant for your bright Light and Spiritual Glow as it passes through.

You will be missed, our pure and clean Spirit!

Blessings of Peace,

PS: And to those that may wish to comment that Downs Syndrome and/or Autism is a “condition” or “disorder” and not a form of Spirituality, think before you type. Have you ever considered the fact that when “the conditions are just right” is when many of us have had our own spiritual insight events? Have you considered that without the clutter, flotsam and jetsam of all our other thinking, such as those with a “disorder”, is when we see things the clearest? No, “Kenny” was a Spiritualists, maybe not by his theosophies or other passive descriptions, but by the Grace of All That Is.

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