She gets wonderful gentle care. I know that. I saw it with my own eyes. She came to learn from me, she was a little older than the others, she looked at me through fearful eyes. They have seen much. The life stories of older people with intellectual disabilities are almost uniformly full of hurt, and trauma, and rejection, and pain. Her eyes were the eyes of a woman who has learned submission in her manner. She approached me, having been told by one of the others, that I was going to teach the group.
In a soft voice she asked for permission to go to the bathroom. This was still 'gathering time', I was quietly sipping a cup of tea. Even though, in class time, I do not require permission, from adults, to leave the room to go to the toilet, or for a smoke, or to take a call on their cell phone. I do not need the 'power of permission giving' and do not want it given to me. I said, equally quietly, 'You don't need my permission to leave the room to go to the toilet.' She looked at me, fearfully, as if she was being tricked, 'Please tell me I can go.' There was a note of pleading in her voice. I didn't know what to do, she looked, now, terrified. I said, 'You can go to the toilet but because you want to, not because I said you can.' She went. I know she went because of the first part of that sentence, 'You can go ...'
I know the care she gets is gentle. I know, I saw it. I also saw the younger people she was with. No permission was ever asked by them. If they needed to leave the room, they left the room. If they wanted a cup of tea, they got a cup of tea. Ah, but they were younger. Much younger. They haven't walked where this woman has walked. They haven't seen what this woman's seen.
As she settled into her seat for the class to begin. I watched her. She sized me up. When she put her hand up to participate, she did so as a mammoth act of trust. She received the applause from the group upon the completion of her role play as if it was the freshest rain, falling on the thirstiest soil. She sat down smiling, with a single tear running down her face. She had surprised herself. She had been surprised by the gentleness and the generosity of the room.
When she left with her staff, a young woman who provided graceful care, I wondered.
Wondered how long those of us who care now, will have to prove ourselves to her. How long before she learns that she no longer lives in a world where of permission and punishment. How long before she can trust that 'this time' won't be like 'last time'. How long before that lovely elderly woman will take her first step forward into a day, into a moment, into life, without fear?
My God, I pray, not long, please, not long.