His Sign Said ‘Please Help.’ So Jean Tried.

December 11, 2016 • Posted in blindness, Uncategorized, writing by

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 our friend Jean in her writerly book jacket photo.

That’s our friend Jean in her writerly book jacket photo. Click on the photo for more on her and her books.

“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.

bethfinke On December 12, 2016 at 11:27 am

Thanks for the link to the News Gazette story. You’re right: Champaign-Urbana is full of good people. Like you.


Katherine Zartman On December 11, 2016 at 8:09 pm

Thanks. I had passed it by this a.m. But nodded approvingly at the title. Now I’ve read it. You do have a very eclectic & interesting stable of friends! Her commitment is laudable- and amazing. Here’s to Jean!


Sent from my iPad


bethfinke On December 12, 2016 at 11:30 am

And here’s to you,too, Katherine –I am very fortunate to count you as one of those very eclectic & interesting people in my stable of friends.


Benita Black On December 12, 2016 at 12:38 pm

In December it’s called a manger of friends.

bethfinke On December 12, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Leave it to you, Beila.


Bethsclasses On December 14, 2016 at 10:15 am

Beth: The link doesn’t go to the article. It goes to a book award page.

bethfinke On December 14, 2016 at 11:20 am

Thanks for letting us know — another friend caught this right away and Mike fixed it. If you go to http://www.bethfinke.wordpress.com and link to Jean’s piece from the post there, it works.


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