Neal was only eleven, maybe twelve when we first met. I was running a business, a video store that his family frequented often. One day, he waved for my attention, his hands dancing in front of his face as he communicated in American Sign Language. With his baby sister interpreting for me, he requested every video I had that dealt with that place called Hell. It was a fascination that he obsessed over for weeks as he devoured every movie I could manage to find. He was disappointed that there weren’t as many as he would have thought, none seeming to give him the answers he was seeking.
Over the years there were many topics he obsessed over, devouring movie after movie that dealt with his subject matter of choice. He approached life with a veracity that I have witnessed in few others. His spirit was monumental and despite the hand dealt to him at birth, he approached every day as if it were going to be the best day of his entire life. His life journey has not been easy. He battles language barriers and visual barriers, and physical and cognitive inabilities. He has spent more time inside hospitals than he has spent out of them. I think though that his biggest battles have been the ignorance and insensitivities from people who don’t put forth any effort to know him.
Neal and his family became family to us. Neal was blessed with an amazing support team, a band of warrior women who champion for him daily, as if their own lives are dependent on them doing so. I feel blessed to call that band of warrior women my friends.
Neal is eighteen now and I absolutely adore him. Neal has given me many teachable moments and the lesson that sticks with me most is that there is always a way, when one is willing to fight and fight hard. Neal wanted people to know him and created his own video about who he is. What I know, that Neal didn’t share, is that he is a giant among mortals, an ambassador amongst commoners. He is a shining star in a dark sky and we are all better for having him in our lives. To know Neal is to love him.