I direct a choir at my church, and they are a great group of people. Over the years, however, we've had a few members come and go who weren't so great, and one of them came to mind yesterday for no reason I can figure out. He's dead now, so I guess I can talk about him.

Looking back, I realize that he had a personality disorder. He was fixated on things, and in the case of our relationship it happened to be reading music and making me, as choir director, accountable for everything I did. Whatever this man took on as a hobby, he attacked it with ferocity and a uniqueness that no one else understood. Choir became his focus, perfecting his talent his Holy Grail.

When handed a sheet of music, he took it home and wrote on it, in red ink, the name of every note and the number of beats it was to be held. When we told him he couldn't write on the music in pen, he bought a copier and made his own sheets so he could. Later he began transferring the songs to note cards, so instead of holding a sheet of music like everyone else, he had a stack of cards listing the words, the notes, and the number of beats each was to be held. Needless to say, this did not work out very well. Repeated attempts to explain to him got me nowhere. "It's how I learn it," he would insist.

In addition to that, he was insistent that everything be explained to him in exquisite detail. Often he would follow me home after church and stand on my porch until I'd explained my reason for choosing a certain song. He might call several times during the week with questions like, "How long are you going to hold that birdseye on page four? Six beats? Seven?"

I could go on, but here's the point. Years after his death, I wish I'd been kinder to him. It's so obvious in hindsight that he was disturbed, but he disturbed me to the point of insanity. I avoided him whenever possible and often refused to explain my position more from spite than anything else. But in essence he was harmless, just a lonely guy who invented crazy things to do to keep himself busy and came up with goofy questions to get me to talk to him.

Mother Theresa would have loved him. Barack Obama would have been graciously polite. Many people with kinder hearts than I would have tolerated him and made him feel welcome despite his eccentricities.

Of course, Barry Eisler would have sent John Rain to kill the s.o.b.

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Comment by P.J. on February 1, 2009 at 10:47am
I think we all have "wish I'd been nicer" people in our lives. It's probably just part of growing up - if one ever gets to the point where one thinks first and is nice now . . . although that John Rains idea resonates for me as well! An Naomi - we're ALL special needs people, some just in way more obvious ways than others.

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