Never before have I desperately wanted to do a radio or television interview so badly. Never. We drove away from doing a session on bullying and teasing with individuals who have an intellectual disability. They were a terrific bunch, full of fun and humour and absolutely eager to learn. They knew exactly when to laugh and exactly when to participate seriously. Sometimes I'm shocked that these who learn differently are considered those who learn slowly.
The workshop always starts out loud and fun, lots of humour, lots of time to participate. Slowly, as trust is gained, as a sense that we are all in a safe place together, we move to the more serious issues around social violence. They've all experienced it. They all bear witness to life as someone different. Each has a story to tell. Many choose to stay silent, as if putting into words the hurt will make it even more real. They listen with attention. At one point I am overwhelmed. I can't identify the emotion. I am angry, I am griefstruck, I am outraged, I am mournful, I am defeated, I am completely saddened. I do not understand. I know it happens. I've experienced it for a lifetime. In an odd kind of juxtaposition I have always understood why I was teased - what else should I expect, fat, ugly, gay, disabled. But I have never understood why others are teased. I can see their difference but I do not experience it the way they do. I see it as a positive addition to the world. They, oddly, can't understand why I'd be teased, but fully accept their own. I guess we all come to believe in our worthlessness even as we assert the worth of others.
I asked, pausing carefully considering the possible consequences of the answer, 'Is there anywhere you go that you are safe? Completely and utterly safe." They too, paused considering the cost of truth, 'Nowhere.'
These kids live in small communities. You know the vaunted 'small towns with big hearts' communities. You know the 'Every one's a neighbour, every one's a friend' village. They don't feel safe. Only in their homes. And there, only when alone.
Brutalization of people with disabilities is so commonplace that it passes unnoticed. In spring flowers bloom, in fall leaves are shed from trees but people with disabilities are a victim in all seasons.
When it was over they all, or almost all, stopped to shake my hand and thank me. Partly for what they learned. Partly for the fun they'd had. But also partly for the opportunity to tell the truth.
And it's a big truth.
One that must be told, because it's a truth that will change - if not the world, at least how those in the world see themselves.
I wanted to tell the world. This is the only way that I can. Now it's up to you.