Names of non-ETI members have been changed to protect privacy. It didn't even occur to me. Not until I saw my outstretched hand, dangling untouched, as the other ETI members reached out and took Jason's hand into their own.
"So nice to meet you," they took turns saying. Jason couldn't see my hand so of course the way to deliver a handshake would be to take his. Why hadn't I thought of this? I stood awkwardly, unsure of how to remedy my faux pas now that pleasantries were over.
His grandfather beckoned the four of us to sit, pulling the room's dining chairs into a living room arrangement. We sat in a circle with Jason, his grandfather and our liaison from the Asociacion Nicaraguense de No Videntes behind me. I was soon overwhelmed with an earnest eagerness to hear Jason's stories, to hear his "favorites," his aspirations, his frustrations.
But ask a 15-year-old for paragraph-long answers and you'll be gladly met with single sentences and lone words. As David steadied his camera, and Sara and Henry volunteered questions, Jason shifted in his seat, hands on his knees as if he needed to attend to something. We were relentless with our curiosities. His voice was patient though, and his shy smiles, sprinkled in conversation, held a warm brightness that led us to Jason's love of soccer and math. He'll be a doctor in the future, he stated surely.
Throughout this exchange, the most memorable image was Jason's grandfather. Every time I glanced back at him, his softened eyes bore an expression of hard-won pride and endless, unwavering support for his grandson.
"God," the man said, "gave Jason to us as he is and we are blessed for what we have."
The realism and sincerity of his perspective commanded respect: respect for raising a grandson whose father works too far for him to come home more than once a month, for raising a grandson in a neighborhood with few kids to play and even fewer who understand. Despite the obstacles, countless and disheartening, both Jason and his grandfather share a tremendous optimism and deep gratitude for the world around them. Their determination to overcome has become an incredible ability to achieve. It is Jason who gives purpose to ETI's work and people lie Jason's grandfather who capture its meaning.
I left feeling indebted to Jason and his grandfather, for the sense of humility they imparted and the motivation we gained. Even as we headed out, Jason's grandfather thanked us, which felt noticeably reverse, for visiting and talking with them. The honor was ours, but the most we could return alongside the bowed "thank yous" was a warm, solid handshake: a gesture of trust and a promise of remembrance. This time, no hands were left hanging.