Monday, March 07, 2011

Ruby Comes to Class

Community living is a wonderful thing, a right for us all. But within that community, living can be difficult. Particularly when you are different. Teasing, bullying, and the like are common place experiences for people with intellectual disabilities in particular. I spoke on Saturday to a large group about this fact, the day was about supporting people with disabilities to live well and cope with, situations wherein debasement rather than dignity are on offer. It was a terrific crowd, both people with disabilities and care providers attending.

I began with a story about Ruby, a little girl who is a big part of my life, and then, at lunch I asked Joe to call and see if Ruby could come over for the last hour of the presentation. I had decided to tell the story of 'Ruby's Song' to the group. It would be cool to have Ruby there and have her sing it with us. Mike agreed to get Rubes ready and Joe rushed over to pick her up. She and he sat over on the side, we'd saved a sandwich for her, and I felt her watching me, curious, as I worked. She did not know that I talked to large groups of people.

Then when I got to the point of telling people about how the song came to be, I saw her really looking, watching my face as I told the story. She and Joe came over, Ruby sitting in the chair next to me, Joe standing behind her. We had the words written down on a flip chart so people could sing with us. We sang it once, then everyone joined us. At the end, Ruby got a huge round of applause. She was predictably a bit shy in this circumstance but she handled herself with grace.

She stayed with me as Joe packed things together and several people with disabilities came over both to say 'thanks' to me and to say 'hello' to Ruby. Ruby is an old hand when it comes to wheelchairs and those who use scooters. She has never before met people with intellectual disabilities at such close quarters and in a social situation that required conversation. At the Gay Pride march, she'd seen several other with disabilities but there was no time for talk - it was all about the parade.

So she sat next to me and greeted and said hello to everyone. She shook every hand offered. Some had very difficult speech but she listened carefully and very rarely had to rely on me for translation. When they were all gone, she turned to me and said, 'some people talk kind of funny'. It was simply an observation. I said, 'Yes, it's cool that  everyone is different and some people talk differently.' She paused and thought, 'Yes, it is.' she said. Then she asked a couple questions about the disability in those she had met. Questions of interest. I answered.

Then I had a question of her. You see I was worried that Ruby would say to them what other kids have said to me, 'What's wrong with you?' She didn't. Instead she greeted them warmly, a little shyly, but she spoke when comfortable and smiled shyly when not. I said, 'Ruby where did you learn to wait until later to ask about someone's difference.'

She looked at me, almost dismissively, and said, 'Dave, you don't have to learn that!'

I keep learning from children, that welcome  comes naturally. It has to be turned into prejudice through the alchemy which comes from learning fear first, hatred second and prejudice third. Ruby's not yet attended those classes. I pray she always opts out. There are several kinds of difference. I want Ruby to embrace hers now. Because she already has the makings of a person, whose life will be defined by the ability to be ordinarily human in extraordinary ways.


Video description: Dave and Joe talking to Ruby and then singing their song. Joe is in a white shirt and vest, Dave is in his housecoat.

Ruby's Song

I'm OK with being me
There's no one I'd rather be
I've a peace within my heart
That your words can't break apart
I don't care what you say
You can't wreck my Ruby day.

9 comments:

Lianna said...

My husband, Terry, (the cheesecake denier in the role play with Dan) and I attended your workshop on Saturday.

I have to tell you that the gamut of emotions that I felt through it completely exhausted me -- but in a positive, almost joyful, way. Dave, you truly gave our family a great gift with your words and teachings.

I think Ruby is surrounded by strong and true role models and I'm not surprised by her ability to be sensitive and intuitive. (Who else could pull off those gorgeous pink sequined running shoes! Her personality shined right through that room! ♥)

Thank you for all that you do. On the way home from the workshop, I was pondering just how much you and Joe work -- reaching out to so many of us trying to figure out how to live and how to teach our loved ones to live a full and happy life. What makes you both so special is the obvious connection of love -- for each other, your family, your work. It was completely comfortable for us to connect with you in that room because of who YOU are. I love that Ruby had a chance to see that, too.

And I think you should ALWAYS wear yellow. Yellow becomes you.♥

Kasie said...

Little Ruby obviously has wonderful adults who love her!
Thanks for all you do!!

Casdok said...

I wish more people would opt out :)

Erin said...

It's nice to hear of a child who is able to look at the world around her and not exclude others from being part of her world for being different. I've recently gotten into blogging and I enjoy yours very much. Thanks for sharing your insights into life and the world around us.

Andrea S. said...

Two things ...

1. I love hearing all your Ruby stories ... what a special person she is growing up to be ...!

2. I now want to see a picture of Dave in yellow! :-) (Or did you post one sometime and I missed it somehow?)

CJ said...

I haven't been here for a while. I came today because I have suffered a loss and you would understand. She was almost 19 years old. I am her social worker. She had a very difficult life due to the choices of her parents, yet still she radiated light and kindness (along with some of her more difficult behaviors she needed to adapt to her living situation when at home.) She had a caring heart that required multiple surgeries to keep it beating. After Christmas she called me. She said she had a good Christmas with her care providers, enjoyed her presents and ate candy. She told me she was sad because no family came to get her. She said that the other girls in the home got to visit but whenever she looked outside "no one comes for me." Those words still break my heart. Yet, I have many happy memories with her. She enriched my life and for her presence, no matter how short, I have been blessed. As I sat in the chapel before her casket, I thought "someone did come for you. God came for you." RIP, my friend.

Dave Hingsburger said...

CJ, your comment was heart breaking. I don't know what to say except that I'm sorry. Not only for your loss, but for having to witness the cruelty of abandonment and be powerless in the face of it. Be glad that you were where you were supposed to be - even if others weren't.

CJ said...

Thank you for your kind words Dave. I am comforted also, by the knowledge that she now rests in the arms of God.

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