There were probably nearly 60 people with disabilities there. They came in bunches, talking, jostling for seats - a joyful noise. Many I've known for years, Larry and Micky and David and Geraldine, many were new to me, new to the organization. They were all there for the second of two self advocate workshops that I was doing, both looking at rights.
As I taught, I enjoyed the easy humour we all shared together. Everytime someone came up to participate in a role play or by reading something aloud, the whole audience erupted in applause. They encouraged each other, rewarded each other, respected each other. I knew that a lot of this came from the organizations committment to self advocacy and the emphasis that was placed on 'voice' and 'power'.
But something stirred in me as I was teaching. An emotion of incredible depth. At first I didn't know what it was or where it came from. But suddenly, without warning, I felt tears building at the corners of my eyes. I was afraid I was going to simply stop teaching and begin to cry. I held on, grabbed hold of my heart and kept on going. My notes grew blurry as I followed the script of the workshop.
You see, I realized.
I had only known them, free.
To me they have always been free.
They had lost the stink of institution hallways.
They had lost the bowed shoulders of the captive.
And they were simply, gloriously, free.
I couldn't imagine anyone ever turning the key and locking any of them away again. They had tasted freedom, they had discovered their place, they knew not only that they deserved community but also that it was owed to them.
I was, I am, part of their heritage of freedom.
I have, we have, walked from the frontiers of bias ... to this room.
They would leave here and go home.
I suppose that's worth a tear, or two.