It happened just before we were to enter. I was lined up behind the other inductees into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame waiting to enter the room. We were in the Royal York Hotel and the room was packed full of people waiting for the ceremony to start. We heard the MC announce that the 2009 inductees were about the enter the hall. Suddenly the whole room stood up and began to applaud. A chill ran down my spine.
I never expected this to happen. I never expected to enter a room full of people applauding my accomplishments. In fact I never expected to have accomplishments. I grew up with messages of failure from those in positons of power, those in the know, that I was a 'nothing' that I would amount to 'nothing' that 'everything' was beyond my grasp and 'nothing' was what I would settle with. I believed them. Of course I did. They all were adults, they had the magical power of knowing. My self concept began to embrace failure and expect disappointment. I experienced a deep sadness, and profound sense of loneliness. I sat outside that room looking at those people standing and applauding wishing, just for a moment, that I could talk to that lonely young man, the me before. Reassure him that it would be ok. More than ok.
I rode in and couldn't look at anyone in the face, because I didn't know what to do with mine. Finally I pulled into the table where I was sitting with Joe and Manuela, my two guests. Gary and Jill Taylor, two fellow inductees, along with Mrs. Healey, wife of the late inductee Jeff Healey who was with her family who were also at the table. The ceremony began with a few remarks from David Crombie a patron of the Hall of Fame followed by a few words from Lt. Gov. David Onely who arrived on his scooter. It began to feel like a really big event. For most of the weeks leading up to this, I couldn't wrap my head around my inclusion in this list, my nomination or my acceptance. I had somehow managed to turn this honour into something less. Like, if I was getting inducted, it could be all that important.
It must be the habit of those with limited sense of self, 'if I do it, it can't be exceptional' 'if I know it, it can't be important' 'if I've acheived it, it can't really matter'. That's what I'd done with this. People often congratulated me, here on the blog and in the real world, and I accepted the congratulations kind of believing that everyone had been hoodwinked into believing the impossible. Do they see UFO's too?
I was the third recipient. I was guided to the base of the ramp. I knew it would hold me because Joe and I got there early, before everyone, and I checked it out. I waited as my accomplishments were read out, my work regarding healthy sexuality and sexual rights for people with disabiliteis, my work aimed at reducing the abuse of those in care, my 'courage' and 'steadfast' committment to ideals. I couldn't even blush because it seemed, right then, that I was accepting the award on behalf of someone who was unable to attend. When indicated, I glided up the ramp and managed to take hold of the mike.
In my bag, untouched, was the speach that I wrote. I decided, only moments before not to read it out. I decided instead to simply talk. Talk of the trust we are given in care providing roles by family members. I spoke of a man's love for his daughter, his fear that she would be hurt, his impassioned plea to all who worked with her that she be safe. We are given trust. We are given an awesome responsibility to care well for those who are vulnerable to our moods, our words, our touch. I talked about the will to make changes so that all are safe. As I spoke I noticed one man, throughout my talk he slowly pushed his chair away from the able, as if wanting a better view. As I spoke about a father's trust for his daughter's safety he gently nodded. As I spoke about the systems failure to be trustworthy, tears began to fall on his face. I had to look away from him because then I knew, really deeply knew, that the work I do is important, the effort I put into my mission is valuable, and maybe, just maybe, I am too.
I rolled down off that stage not feeling like I had acheived something and now could rest. I came down thinking about what's next to be done. About how the very next day people were coming from Pennsylvania to meet with Manuela and myself about processes, practices and protocols for keeping people safe. About how the work is well under way but not done. About how my hands, which held this beautiful award, needed to place it down and let it gather dust, as I went back to work.