We were set up right behind a float of the Titanic. On the back someone had hung a banner which read, 'It was OK when it left Ireland.' And that's the kind of great good humour that one expects at the Saint Patrick's Day parade. I wasn't co-ordinating the event this year so we didn't have to be over first thing to claim the spot. When we arrived, with about 20 minutes to spare, all sorts of people from Vita had showed up. Some of the members had marched last year, but most were there for the first time. There was anticipation in the air. About ten minutes before starting we strung our banner across the street. We also had a banner sent over from Down Syndrome Ireland which we carried proudly with us for the second year.
Again, like last year, our group was incredibly diverse. There were those with physical disabilities, and those wit intellectual disabilities, those who were deaf, those who came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and, this year, we had one Irish staff. This year the members loaded up on the 'Word's Hit cards - and Ruby of course was primed to pass out bunches of them. The longish wait ended when the Titanic set sail up St. George Street. We turned onto Bloor where the parade officially started and we were off. It's along walk but the day was warming by the minute and the sun shone through a cloudless sky.
There impressions from the parade:
I saw her for the very first time living in an institution. She was 'hard to serve' and 'hard to move' and 'hard to handle.' When we met her she was doing things on the computer in the small computer classroom in the institution. I rolled up beside her to chat with her. I found her charming then and still do now. When she finally moved she always would rush over to me and remind me of the day we met 'inside'. The first thing she told me at the parade was that she was happy in her new home and really happy to be in a parade. She'd never been in one before.
Well, you'd never know it. When we hit Bloor, she went over and handed out card after card after card. She laughed and her spirits rose. Saint Patrick may have driven snakes out of Ireland, but it looked like she wanted to drive hate out of hearts. Her zeal for getting cards into hands was unmatched. I didn't hand out a single card this year. My job ended up in going and getting cards to replenish other's stock. But seeing her, once captive, now free, in the parade proudly working to make the world better, knowing that what she was doing was important. To have seen the change and the growth was one thing. But to see people eagerly take her cards, all curious as to what it could be, all smiling at her, all happy to be here in a sunny day together. Everyone was Irish, everyone was included. That's the magic of the day.
Ruby somehow, had decided that her mission was to get the cards into the hands of little kids. So she targeted a different demographic! She chose the 3 to 8 group. She'd spot a bunch and ask to jump of Joe's scooter and then Joe would stop and watch - she's never out of sight when we are outside - and she'd carefully take the cards and hand them to the kids. Their parents all smiled at a 5 year old working the kiddie crowd. She did give to the occasional adult who reached out or who was obviously waiting for and wanting one. I asked her why she was only giving to children. She looked at me confused and said, 'But adults don't need the card, they already know that calling people names is wrong.' Her certainly that adulthood brings with it kindness was not something that I cared to shake that day. I wished that she was right, Really wished that she was right. But then, maybe starting with these kids, is the way to get to where Ruby already thinks we are.
We had to duck out early as we had to go to Sleeping Beauty - the ballet. So we pulled off and headed home so Joe could drop off the scooter and we could make it up to the subway. The parade was still on and we stopped every now and then for Ruby to watch a float or a band go by. Just before we got up to the corner where we would cross to the subway a woman approached me, one of the Word's Hit cards in her hand. She waved to me to stop so I did. 'I want to say ...' she begun and started crying ...'Thank you .......' I waited for her to finish, it was hard for her to speak, 'these cards, my son .... what they did to him ... these cards ... thank you.' That's all she could manage and she reached out and gave me a hug, her tears touching my cheek. Then she was gone. We continued on our way up to the subway. For the rest of the ride down to the subway I thought about what happened.
We marched with purpose. We marched with a message.
The Saint Patrick's Day Parade is put together by people who clearly understand the idea of 'everyone is Irish so therefore everyone is included'. They set a friendly tone as they gather us all together. We chatted with those around us, People noticed, of course they did, the various disabilities, but we were all in high spirits, all in one big human endeavour, to have fun, to be together, to represent what could happen when the snakes of hatred and the snakes of bigotry and the snakes of exclusion have been cast out of the human heart.
Saint Patrick, we thank you and the committee which brings us together one day a year, to experience a little bit of a world that understands the very heart of the word, welcome.