She sat in the front row, attentive, nodding, occasionally crying as she identified with my words. Her walker in front of her, her friends beside her, her eyes never left mine. I was giving a talk in Oliver and the audience was a real mix, family, staff, self advocates, school personelle. The topic was supporting people with disabilities who have been teased or bullied. When I get to the part where I want to talk about how we, as carers should respond, her had shot up, "I get teased all the time, people call me names, stick their tongue out at me, bully me, I try to do things to stop it but they don't stop. What should I do?" There was such urgency in her question. I asked her permission to first talk about what staff and parents should do when they are told that someone is being bullied, she smiled and said that she would be willing to wait as long as I got back to her question.
It was a wonderful moment for me as a speaker. Often when I talk about teasing, an audience of parents or staff collectively decide that I'm talking about somewhere else, somewhere 'not here'. She took that opportunity away from them. She let them know that the Oliver that she lived in included mean people who did mean things and they did these mean things on purpose to someone so gentle.
At length I talked about how we should never say, "Just ignore it." I went through the 7 things we should do. I could see the audience take this all so seriously. Perhaps more seriously than any audience I'd had before. Because of her, Donna, she'd gone public with the truth. She gave me the gift of her honesty. She gave them the gift of truth.
But then I needed to talk to her. I told her that I wished I could give her a community of people who were kind and caring but that I could not. I told her that one day we would have welcoming communities but these communities would not be fashioned by my hands, by the hands of parents or by the hands of agency staff. I explained to her that every time she went out, every time that she faced hateful people with hateful comments, she was creating community. She was cutting a path. She was Rosa Parks. She was our hero.
I told her that three months from now a little girl would be borne with a disability in Oliver. That that little girl would have an easier time of it because she, Donna, had been here. Had courageously lived her life in the community. I told Donna that her suffering had purpose. I told her that her courage would be rewarded and that people with disabilities would grow up in an Oliver that had experienced Donna's courage to live freely, live independantly and live with power.
Donna understood. I could see her understand, maybe for the first time, that she was a hero. That she was a pioneer. That she was doing something good for someone that needed her. That she was parenting a new generation of people with disabilities. Tears came to her eyes, but they did not fall. Donna would not cry. She was too proud for tears.
When Donna stood up you could see new determination in her shoulders and new purpose in her walk.
I am a fortunate man.
Because today I met one of the women who has created and is creating community in Oliver.
Today, I met Donna.