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June 2016: Lorraine & Jim

June 2016 Monthly Letter—Lorraine & Jim, Curiosity & Kindness

jim&lorraineIf you’re just meeting Jim for the first time, the white cane and cloudy blue eyes might make you see him as blind.  Talk to him for a moment and you’ll see a man of great vision.

“Jim is interested in everybody and everything,” explains Lorraine, a Little Brothers volunteer who provides medical transportation for him.  “He has such a wealth of knowledge and is always interested in learning new things.”

It wasn’t always this way for him.  In grade school, learning was “a chore,” Jim admitted, chuckling. Sometimes he’d even fall asleep at the table.  But in high school he learned perhaps the most important lesson of all:  that he wanted to learn.  This zest for learning has led him to read everything from Lewis and Clark biographies to animal stories like Sea Biscuit, from Louis L’Amour westerns to political commentaries and mysteries thrown in beside.  “My dad used to tell me that non-fiction was stranger than fiction, and I think he got that right,” he said.

Jim’s job experience is no less varied.  In high school he made a few extra bucks by accompanying patients on long distance ambulance services, letting him see a bit of the wider world from Ann Arbor to Rochester.  At Calumet & Hecla (C&H) Mines, he worked at the smelter as part of the pouring/dipping crew, just a foot away from the molten copper, he explained.  When drafted into the army he received training in food safety to be a “veterinary food inspector,” and after that went back to civilian life at a lumberyard.  He never minded the hard work, but there was no opportunity for advancement, so to improve his lot, he joined White Pine Mine.  He was hoping to work a surface job, but they sent him down under.  “I was stressed out about being underground,” he said.  “We all had our individual lights, but it was damp and dirty.”  He worked at White Pine between 1970-1985, and eventually was relocated above ground.

When the company required medical exams, the nurse announced, “Mr. Morrin you have passed your physical,” but he knew he hadn’t.  He had a vision problem, several problems, in fact.  In the winter, he could not distinguish depth in a snow-white environment, at night he struggled in the dim light, and his peripheral vision had narrowed.  He had cataract surgery, and eventually in his early 40s his eye doctor diagnosed him with Retinitis Pigmentosa (R.P.), a rare, degenerative eye disease that affects the retina and may eventually cause blindness.

As his vision decreased, Jim had to resign from White Pine and sought help from the V.A. He attended the Hine’s School for the Blind and received valuable training in mobility, orientation, and living skills including self-care, cooking, laundry, and other household chores, all with the goal of being as self-sufficient as possible.  When asked what made him so determined to be independent, he said he knew of a man who quit work after being blinded, went on welfare, and spent the rest of his life lying in bed. “I did not want to become that man,” Jim said, “It’s important that I know how to do things on my own.”

But Jim is not content just to do things on his own, he also has an insatiable curiosity to understand things on his own, and his key way to do so is by gathering information from any source he can—documentaries, TV shows, talking books—and by asking questions.  Lots of them.  In fact, he’s a tough subject to interview, as he so effortlessly turns the conversation away from himself and outward to the rest of the world, wanting to know how things work, why politicians say the things they say, what makes people tick.

Part of what made him tick is caring for other people.  When asked what he was particularly proud of in his life, he said that he had quit two different jobs that he had enjoyed in order to take care of his parents for years when they could no longer look after themselves.  He wonders out loud why people can do hurtful things, and worries about the greed he now sees around him.  “Sometimes that’s hard to handle,” he admits, shaking his head.  “There’s always going to be those yo-yos.  But those [people] are really important in your life because they make the good people really shine.”

And one of those shining lights is Lorraine, a Little Brothers volunteer who transports and befriends not only Jim, but also many other elderly friends.  She drives them to doctor appointments and parties, reaching out even further by visiting them at home, helping with errands, and taking isolated elderly individuals to lunch.  Her efforts help the homebound live life more fully, enabling them to pursue their healthcare and hobbies, their kinships and curiosities.  Volunteers like Lorraine and friends like Jim restore our faith in humanity, reminding us of the rich rewards life has to offer when we refuse to turn a blind eye to the needs of others.

Your monthly contribution provides vital support to our medical transportation, friendly visiting, and other programs for our elderly friends.  Please consider passing along this letter and asking your friends to support us on a monthly basis too.  Thank you again for the important work you do!