In the abuse prevention workshop for people with disabilities, we have a discussion about feelings. As I have mentioned before, this is an area of great fragility for many with disabilities. As those who have been controlled by others, there were few feelings allowed. 'Happy,' being the only one that was truly acceptable. Sadness can be annoying and anger simply disrupting. You may think I exaggerate this point but I assure you I do not. Those of you who work with people with disabilities can attest to the fact that a woman with Down Syndrome, crying, will state with vigour that she is 'happy'. A man angered because a plan didn't go through, will state in angry tones that he's 'happy'. In the time not long past, but past, they've learned there is one acceptable way to be. Punishment or pills will beat down other strong emotions.
So to bring forward the four basic feelings, 'glad,' 'sad,' 'mad,' and 'scared', enters the group into a bit of worry. They look at me suspiciously. Am I tricking them? By then in the workshop a feeling of safety has eliminated some of the hierarchy between teacher and learner, so they loosen up and talk. Happy brings forth all sorts of examples. The other emotions brings forth all sorts of truth.
When we spoke about 'sad' a man, with Down Syndrome' sat staring. He turned around in his seat and carefully watched every person who came forth with an example. Part way through he raised his hand, everyone stopped. He got up. Moved his chair, turned it around to face the audience. I felt at first like my workshop was being hijacked, but something told me to shut up and simply wait. I listen to 'something' when 'something' talks. He then spoke for a few minutes about the death of his mother. He put his hand over his heart and indicated that it was broken. He spoke about grief and he spoke about how much he loved her. I got the sense, and it was only a sense because I never asked, that it was the eulogy he hadn't been allowed to give. Once done, he got up, nodded at me, and returned his chair to position. We were all quiet. When he was sat down again he nodded at me with a 'you can now continue' authority.
Continue I did. But something had happened. The room was touched by what he had said, things came out about sadness. People spoke about being teased, they spoke about exclusion, they spoke about not being listened to as people with disabilities, they spoke about wanting in but being kept out. I felt like I was looking deep into the hearts of those who had disabilities. One man, who never participated to this point, put his hand up. 'What makes you sad?' I asked.
'Not being loved,' he said. No tears, no histrionics, just a quiet statement of despair.
I wanted to say something, to deny his feeling, to make trite what had happened. A 'well, we all love and support each other here' kind of thing. But, first, we don't. And second, 'I had asked, he had spoken, the least that I could give him was respect.' So I said, 'Yes, that is sad, very, very sad.' He nodded.
We moved on through the workshop.
Again and again I get reminded that people with disabilities feel what is done to them. Those who claim 'they don't understand poor dear' are in fact the poor dears who don't understand. People are people and people feel. Abandonment, victimization, loss, loneliness, grief. They feel these things and more. I also learn that they feel joy and love and connection and comfort. I am left with only hoping. hoping that this man, who feels the lack of love, will one day welcome it's presence. He sits in a room full of people who have husbands and wives, children and grandchildren. He sits with people who have found love along their journey.
It is my fervent hope that one day his journey will take a turn, and there, unexpectedly in front of him it will be. Love, quietly waiting for a bus, or playing badminton in a park, or talking on a cell phone with a friend ... will be love waiting.
Waiting just for him.
He has learned what it is to live unloved, what a surprise awaits him when he is first held, in love, when he is first kissed, in love, when he first opens the creaky hinges on the door to his heart and welcomes home, love.