Yesterday afternoon we went to a small Christmas event in our neighbourhood. It is a small event where carols are sung and people mix and mingle. This year, like last year, I saw a man with Down Syndrome attending the event along with his mother. She has aged a lot in the last year and is now using a manual chair, which he pushed with great care. I said hello to them as they passed by, we've chatted several times before, and they greeted both Joe and I warmly.
Shortly afterwards I heard an elderly woman say to her husband, "I don't know why she would bring him to something like this, it takes away from the spirit of the event." That sentiment is shocking on so many different levels. She made variations of the comment several times to several people as they arrived and before the singing started.
I silently screamed inside.
I looked at Joe, who'd heard all this, he looked back at me knowing what I was asking, he simply said, "Do it."
Rolling over I caught her eye, instantly I could tell she didn't think I belonged either. I rolled up and said, "I'm not going to make a scene, but I'm going to tell you that I think you are a bigot and a bully. You are a bigot because you can't see anything but stereotype - they are here together, if anything, he's bringing his mother. You are a bully because you are saying horrible things loudly enough for us all to hear. You are beating us with your prejudice and daring any of us to take you on. Let me tell you this, if I hear you say that kind of thing one more time, there will be a scene."
"Who do you think you ..."
"I know who I am and I know who you are. Trust me. There will be a scene if you say anything like that about him again. I will not stand by." I know my voice was cold because my intent seemed to freeze her expression.
It wasn't until this interaction that I realized that when people use hateful language aimed at someone else they are bullying that person and bullying everyone of kind heart that hears the words. We are being DARED, DARED to take them on. Our silence is both consent and agreement. Consent for hate to be spoken, and agreement with hateful thoughts.
It was hard to get back into the event. But, right up front, a carol or two in, they sang my favourite traditional carol ... it's one that, since childhood, brings me a sense of quiet and peace. So I sang it, with a voice that began shaking and ended strong.