I met a woman ... years ago. She told me of the exact moment that she learned that her baby was born with a disability. The doctor wouldn't let her hold the child. The nurses counselled her to give up her demand to cradle the child in her arms. The child, her daughter, was born a vegetable - it would be better for all concerned if she walked away from the hospital and described her living daughter as lifeless. The baby would be take to a special place and be cared for by people who were trained to care for babies who weren't babies.
Her face set, at this point of the story, and she said in a voice much younger than the one that had been telling the story, "I will hold my daughter!!"
And she did.
She took her child home, against the advice of all. The predictions fell on her like acid rain ... your husband will leave you ... your other children will resent your choice ... your life will be one misery after another. She raised her children, she loved her children, she fought for her children, all of her children, she was, in short a mother.
I met a woman ... years ago. She told me of the exact moment that she knew that what she was fighting was bigotry and prejudice. Her son, the boy she loved, had been called 'untrainable' and 'uneducable'. She knew him as something different: a boy who learned to dress himself and learned to feed himself and learned to make jokes with words. She took that boy and day after day ... not of struggle but of laughter, she taught him to read. The moment he picked up a book and began reading aloud, to her, she knew. She knew they were all wrong.
She called other mothers of other sons, and other mothers of other daughters, children who had, to a one, been called names by experts. They got together and started a programme operating out of various homes. A small travelling school peopled by the untrained teaching the untrainable was born. And everyone learned. That school became a programme, that programme based on a premise got a premises. So began services to people with intellectual disabilities in her home town.
I met a woman ... years ago. She fought her entire life for the right of kids with disabilities to go to regular schools, to be in regular classes, to walk to adulthood on the same sidewalks as other kids. She was called names. Lots of names. Names reserved for woman of strength. Names reserved for women of ideas. She received threats. Lots of threats. Threats reserved for women who both listen AND speak. Threats reserved for woman who stand firm in the face of male anger. She wanted to, before she died, step into the promised land. And so she did ... touring a school where kids were kids and children with disabilities ran the hallways.
She went home and wept.
I have met women.
Right now, at my desk, I am the only man in the offices around me. I am surrounded by women. And that means I am surrounded by creativity and humour and strength.
Today is International Women's Day ... and as such I recognize that it was the defiant love of mothers, the uncompromising vision of women, that began what has become the community living movement.