On a campus of about twelve-hundred undergrad students, he was very likely one of the most aggressive personalities to attend classes. He was just under six feet tall, weighed easily two hundred and sixty pounds, and constantly flipped his hair sideways across his head while he talked--which was often. "Hi there! I don't think I know you. Are you Ricky's brother?"
I smiled. Yes, this time I was. It's nice being recognized that way.
"I could definitely tell. First time I saw you I was like 'ooh' because there was no way you WEREN'T his brother. You two look so very much alike, you could be twins." The words were a highway of speeding tickets and twelve-car pile-ups. Speaking as rapidly as he could, often his words stuttered, bumped into each other, and swelled, tossed by the furious tempest and whirlwind of a mind that tossed his sentences too and fro. Ryan often made eye contact while he spoke, eager, earnest and sincerely seeking affirmation.
"Yep! We've been brothers for twenty years now, it's time we finally got along I think."
"Oh yes, yes, yes. I'm not surprised, you see, Ricky is one of my very good friends here on campus. 'Ryan' he says, 'you are a very easy person to get along with'. And he means it. He definitely means it. I love Ricky. How is that guy? I haven't seen him in so long, we're both so busy...you know. I have two majors and a minor. I used to have three then I dropped one because of health reasons. How is he? How's Ricky?"
Standing there listening to Ryan, I amusedly noticed that he was as close to a grown-up, real-life Piglet as I've ever seen. Belly all tucked in a too-small shirt, words tumbling every which way, and just as sweet as can be, Ryan reminded me so much of the Pooh cartoon character.
"Ricky's good, he's been really busy getting ready for finals."
"Oh, that's good. That's real real good. You know, I am too. My parents sat me down when I graduated high school and said 'Ryan, we want you to get the very best education possible, so we're sending you to JBU. You know, I never would have thought I'd get to come here, but look at me. Here I am, studying for finals. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. My Mom works in a factory down South of here two, almost three hours, my Dad worked at the same place and that's where they met, of course now that he's retired on disability he's been at home ever since, and here I am about to get my degree in May. It's good James, isn't it? It's real, real good.
Ryan was hungry. From the moment we first met until now, I hadn't realized it but he was hungry--hungry for the same exact things I was, the same thing everyone was, but he was actively, honestly and blatantly looking for it.
Humanity is hungry.
We are hungry for affection, hungry for others to know our stories, hungry to share ourselves, be approved, liked, and loved. Ryan simply asked me for it. I'm sure he could be categorized under a psychological evaluation as having Asperger's, or an autism spectrum disorder of some kind, and it would probably be true. But while we were talking I realized that many, many of the things that Ryan said to me or asked of me in that interaction were things I ask silently of my friends, my family, and most people. Ryan and I were in so many ways identical, and yet because he didn't hide it or even seemingly try to hide many of his needs in his social life, it was astonishing how quickly I attempted to put him in box.
1 Timothy 4:16 "Keep a close watch on how you le and your teaching. Stay true to what is right for your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you."
In a moment of admonishment and startling realization, when I thought I was "reaching out to" Ryan by spending time with him I was in fact making myself into someone I wasn't. His awkward, fast way of talking was who God had made him to be, but it wasn't so different when he asked for my approval. It was a verbalization of what I have done so. many. times.
I look forward to the next time we get to hang out, and maybe I'll get to learn some more from him.
"Did you know that most police officers who have had to deal with a crisis of some kind with there job have experienced varying levels of PTSD? The a-type personalities that are recruited often to fill the roles of those positions tend to stuff their feelings down inside and just try to 'tough it out' when in fact it's been shown that even just three one-hour counseling sessions would dynamically reduce the divorce and domestic violence rate in the country's police force by over thirty percent in the first year?"
Didn't know that.