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.
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.