1987. A hot, humid day in Champaign, Ill. Mike and I are perched on stools at the Esquire Lounge. My folded cane sits atop the bar, forming a rigid white line that separates my beer glass from Mike’s. The discussion? How can I get to the pool on my own to swim laps.
The stranger sitting next to me interrupts. Her name was Jean, she said, and she couldn’t help but eavesdrop. “Are you talking about getting to the pool on campus?” she asks. I nodded. Newly blind back then, I didn’t have a Seeing Eye dog yet. I could hardly make it to the mailbox down the street. How was I going to get to the bus stop on my own? Not to mention the locker room, then to the edge of the pool to swim?
“That’s easy!” Jean said. She was a swimmer. “I drive over to the campus pool every other day. I’ll just pick you up and take you with me.”
And that’s how I met Jean Thompson. During our drives to the pool, I found out she was a writer. A real writer. A really good writer. She taught creative writing at University of Illinois. Jean was a natural-born teacher, really — she knew when to set me free, let me try taking the bus and handle the pool on my own.
I’ve been swimming on my own ever since. I’ve been Jean’s friend ever since, too. And what a generous friend she’s been to me.
So it came as no surprise to hear Jean helped a man who was homeless — the real surprise is that an essay she wrote about doing so was published in the New York Times today. She didn’t tell me! Mike saw the piece, though, and read it aloud to me. You can read it online here.
I hope you do — you’ll see why I feel lucky to call her my friend.