Monday, May 18, 2009

Seeing Is Definately Not Believing

I had an astonishing insight. Astonishing. Now that I've had it, I wonder if I've really always known, but I don't think so. Not like I do now. And it happened in the lobby of a hotel.

Joe and I were checking out of the hotel where I'd been speaking at and attending the Canadian Down Syndrome Annual Conference. There was a small problem with my bill so I ended up having to wait as they tried to find a charge and add it to the tab. Joe went ahead to help with loading the car and I sat quietly looking around the lobby.

Here's what I saw:

Two little girls playing around the big overstuffed chairs. They were bewteen four and five. They both were blond. Both had pigtails. I saw only one face, as the other was across from her playmate with her back to me. The face I saw was a chubby, dimpled, smiling one. Too, it was the face of someone with Down Syndrome. But I smiled because of the joy the two girls were experiencing at play. One of them had a small green change purse and it was the center of all their activity. The world did not exist for either of them outside the small ring in which they interacted. I watched and envied, as adults often do, the ability to shrink the world to fit just you and yours, the ability to play freely and laugh easily. Others smiled at them similarly. I caught the eyes of others watching, we all grinned. All knew what each other was thinking.

Then, as I was still waiting, a woman - prosperous in her 30's stopped to ask something at the desk she looked over and caught sight of the scene that I have described to you. Her face crumbled into sadness, 'Poor little mite' she said. I was startled in that I haven't heard a child refered to as a mite in ... well ever. I didn't know for sure what it meant. But there was no mistaking the 'poor little ...
I looked back over and tried, really tried to see what she saw.

Here's what I saw:

Mom came over and little girl in pink, the one who's face I'd seen, lifted her arms. Mom swung her up and hugged her, gave her a peck on the cheek and then set her back down into her world of play. Entirely natural, entirely normal, completely unremarkable.

I glanced back and saw the look of sadness remain unchanged. My attention was called by the clerk and I signed off on the bill and began pushing myself over to the car. Joe magically appeared and he got me over to the door. The 'poor mite' woman was ther and I stopped and said, 'I'm sorry, I over heard you remarking about the child in the lobby, what did you mean 'poor mite'.

She looked at me startled at being spoken to, startled at being overheard, she said, not brusquely but not friendly, 'Well, didn't you SEE?'

Obviously she saw something very different than I did. She was looking at a scene through the eyes of someone confirming bias. But then, so was I. She was looking at the scene with prejudices firmly in place. But then, so was I. I don't think I ever really realized how different eyes can see the same thing so differently.

Seeing, as it turns out, isn't believing. Seeing is simply confirming. What would that child have had to do in order to be smiled at ... perhaps even valued? I think, nothing. Her existance as a person with a disability eliminates the possiblity, in the mind of some, of worth.

Poor mite ... well, I pray she one day might ... be valued and loved just for being exactly who she is ... exactly who she becomes ... exactly who she might be. I pray that she be seen, really seen, for who she is, not through the filter of prejudice and preconception.

Pity does not erase potential, it just makes victory a little more tasty.


rickismom said...

Yes, but unfortunately, Pity continues and when the "little mite" is 14, she sees it, feels it, breathes it... and makes having self worth, and acknowledging that "different" part of you as "OK", VERY VERY difficult......

Brussel Sprouts Hater said...

Jean Vanier tells the story of having a conversation with a wealthy businessman, who was telling him all his problems: how hard he had to work, how depressed he was, the problems with his business and his marriage..... While they were talking there was a knock on the door, and Jean-Claude came in, grinning all over his face. Jean-Claude has Down's Syndrome. He was just checking in with Jean. OK? I'm fine. Have a good day! And off he went on his way, grinning as he went. When he had gone, the businessman said to Jean "it's so sad, isn't it, someone like that?".

Molly C said...

Hmm, I really feel like pity is a useless emotion a lot of the time.I work with a lot of kids who are "poor little mites". Except that's obviously NOT the case. These kids? my amazing boys? They are so much more than their disability(s). When will the world start seeing that?

Brenda said...

"Pity does not erase potential, it just makes victory a little more tasty."

I. love. this.

May I borrow it? :)

Whatshername? said...

I think it just comforts people like that if they place a whole group of people beneath them, so they can feel better about their own mediocrity.

CJ said...

Brenda, I thought the same thing.

Dave, you saw what was exactly there. The other woman was using vision that was filtered with preconceived notions and prejudice.

It is good to have clear vision.

lisa said...

I had a substitute aide in my classroom the other day tell me how much she admired my students (multiple disabilities) and how brave they were? I was totally put out. Brave? admirable? because they had disabilities? She couldn't see the beautiful, awful normal children that they really were.


WildKat said...

That was the best blog entry I've read in a long time! I've had the same look and comments myself through the years, and I don't understand how people can be so closed minded in the way they think. If people would take the time to open up their minds a bit and not feel "pity" the world would be a much better place.

Kristine said...


I've been quietly reading your blog ever since the infamous airport incident made its way into my email box. As another person with a disability (SMA... it's a form of Muscular Dystrophy), I've loved and connected with SO MANY of your entries. (My favorite moment was when I was reading, and couldn't figure out who Henry was... then it finally hit me. Duh! I'm not the only person who names my chair! I spend my days with Lucy, and refer to her like a person all the time.) I love how you see the world, and how you express yourself. It's not often that you run across somebody on the internet that you wish you could just go to lunch with.

Anyway, I wanted to finally break my silence to give kudos, props, and snaps to this entry! These are the moments that happen every day, but most people miss them. The "poor little mite" will become more aware of the pity factor as she grows up, and whether or not she can ever articulate it, I'm sure it'll bother her. I know that for me, it's maddening that regardless of what I do or don't accomplish in my life, I'll always be either "pitiful and sad" or "courageous and inspirational," based on nothing more than the set of DNA I pulled out of the gene pool. This is the attitude that makes many of us so strongly opposed to the Jerry Lewis Telethon... But that's another topic. :)

Anonymous said...

It's a "pity" that one person with a disturbing view point, clouded what you saw. I read here about a room of onlookers who saw two happy girls playing. Isn't it great!?
As for the comment about the little girl being valued, I'm sure people already value and love her for who she is: her mother, her friend....
I love your blogs, but I don't want to feel "pity" for this girl because of one person's sick bias. She was happy; I'm going to leave here holding onto that.