I share many things in common with Jim Schwier but the one that gives me the biggest chuckle is our mutual love of tool belts. Jim has many other passions and talents. Some of these are reflected in a letter sent to the YMCA by his step Mom, Karin Melberg Schwier Canada's most prolific and successful author on matters related to a good life in the world of disability and elsewhere. The occasion was the fifteenth anniversary of Jim's contribution to the success of the 'Y' in his hometown of Saskatoon. The excerpt starts with Karin quoting from a piece she wrote for Chataleine magazine a few years ago.
James Christopher is brilliant. He has his fatherʼs gentle disposition and humour, green eyes and quick smile. Of my three stepchildren, he is the first to ask about faraway relatives, write a thank you card, take the garbage out, set the table, rub my shoulders and plant a kiss on my cheek. He is the most optimistic person Iʼve ever known. He wakes up each day with utter certainty there will be friendly souls in it. A steadfast volunteer at the YMCA and community college, people ask about him when heʼs not there. He believes people are basically decent even when heʼs presented, sometimes cruelly, with evidence to the contrary.
He meets stares with squared shoulders, though on some days, those shoulders sag a little. I cringe at the word “special.” Itʼs used in a way that makes someone with a disability feel anything but. What Jim is, however, is a good person, a compassionate man. He faces his future with unwavering faith that family and friends count in our lives. They are the only things that ever will. He teaches all of us to slow down, criticize less, praise more and say, “I love you” with wild abandon.
... It would be a lie to say that Jimʼs Down syndrome hasnʼt posed difficult situations for him and his family over the years, but itʼs not significant all the time. In fact, it would be fair to say that most days we donʼt think about it. Itʼs the orchestration of Jimʼs life that provides us with some twists and turns and surprises.
Jim is who he is, a good man. Heʼs pure, but heʼs complicated from time to time. His disability is a part of what makes him him, but it is not who he is. Thatʼs sometimes hard to explain to people when Jimʼs disability is pretty well stamped on his face. The Saskatoon YMCA has been an extraordinary place of belonging for Jim, not because he has a disability, but rather because he has been valued for his work and presence. The YMCA recognizes Jim as human being in his own right. There has been an unwavering welcome for Jim, even on grumpy days, when he needs a reminder, or when silence seems easier than the exhausting effort to talk.
Sometimes people ask us what a good service or program is for Jim. We donʼt think in those terms; we think that Jim flourishes in a place that welcomes him and expects him to contribute. …
…When we pick Jim up at the end of his workday and heʼs got his self-satisfied grin on, we know heʼs worked hard and had some positive connections with people during the day, it makes us very happy we knocked on Teresaʼs door and that after all this time, and a lot of towels, Jimʼs volunteer contribution and his presence is still valued. He belongs and he gives back.
Thank you for playing such an important role in Jimʼs life.
As Jim says, “Ciao!”
Karin Melberg Schwier, Richard Schwier
To read the full letter click here.
To see Karin's impressive catalogue of books and articles click here.
Jim became a Canadian Citizen November 24th 2011.