If I could, I would dare them too look in her eyes. There is hurt there. Deep, deep hurt. I would challenge them to look deep in those eyes, oh trust me, I would if I could.
She is reaching out from behind others. Her staff has stopped to speak to me, thank me for my lecture. I had just spoken about the teasing and bullying of people with disabilities. About the pain that that damn word 'ret@rd' causes. About the need for people with disabilities to have skills to understand teasing and the need for us all to rise in protest at the use of hateful words used with the intention of hurt.
Her hand comes towards me tentatively. Like she's reached out before and been rejected. Like she expected her greeting to be turned away. Like hurt was always a possibility in every interaction, at any time.
Oh I dare them. Those teenagers who fling the word 'ret@rd' at each other. Who justify themselves by saying that it doesn't mean anything. I dare them to look in her eyes and tell her that their words don't slap her hard across the face. I dare those disgusting cowards to stand in front of her and excuse their words as meaningless. Oh. Man. I dare them.
I take her hand and the touch gives her courage. She pulls closer to me. She wants to speak. Her voice is soft. It is the voice of someone too often told to be quiet. It is the voice of someone seldom sought for opinion. It is the voice of someone with experience and wisdom but without trust in herself. "I get called that word all the time." She can't even say the word. And her eyes. Oh, her eyes. They fill to the brim with tears. But tears do not fall.
Oh I dare them. Those comedians who use the word 'ret@rd' to full effect. To make themselves a rebel. To make themselves bad boys, bad girls. Oh look at me, I defy political correctness. Oh look at me, I'm SO outrageous. Yeah, they find themselves funny. They justify what they do by saying that you can't censor art. I dare those disgusting cowards to hear the pain in her voice. I dare them to look in her eyes and explain how abuse is art. I dare them to tell a 'ret@rd' joke to her, even in her presence. Cowards. Liars. Bigots. Oh. Man. I dare them.
My heart is in my throat. I tell her that I know that words hurt. That I hope that she learned some new ways of thinking today. That I hope that one day that word will no longer be said. That one day she will be safe from the word that is like a heart seeking missile .. words that aim and penetrate and explode self esteem. She says simply, 'I never want to hear it again.'
Oh I dare them. Those who casually use words of hate. Who think that no one hears them when they utter hateful words. Those who believe that no one around them has a child with a disability, no one around them has a friend with a disability, and of course, no one around them has a disability. Disgusting ignorant jerks. Words. Hurt. Children of three know this. I dare them. I dare them to see her eyes. I dare them to see how she walks. Carefully, as if each step could bring disaster. As if there is risk everywhere. As if she, while she lives the life she lives in the body she has, is never safe.
I dare them to realize that her hurt is their handiwork.
I dare them to take even one single step in her shoes.
I. Dare. Them.