|Six people, four adults and two children, dressed in vibrant colours, holding signs proclaiming to be Lucky in some way. I am sitting in the middle of the photograph.|
I was sitting, alone, checking emails on my cell phone. I had parked just out of the way of others there, most of whom were rushing to the concession stand or to the movie that they had chosen to see. I noticed the glances, of course, they are an unceasing part of being different and being disabled. I knew that they saw me as they expected to see me. Someone alone. Someone apart. Someone solitary. Someone, then, without community. Someone who existed outside the mainstream. Someone made differently therefore who lived a different kind of lived. Someone shunned.
I get the sad and pitying smiles from strangers. It's an indicator that they have seen me and they are, as their gift to me, acknowledging me. I always act as if I hadn't seen them. Because I know that though they have seen me, they haven't seen me, it seems only fair to return the favour.
Then, the door opened. Joe and Mike and the kids came through. Suddenly I had two little girls running towards me telling stories of Hallowe'en and laughing and hugging and talking about the movie we were all going to. We are all together buying tickets, all a jumble of excitement and of friendship and of caring and of, yes, community.
Some of those who had seen me m
oments before. Who saw what they saw as my natural state of aloneness were standing in the lineup for popcorn and treats. They looked confused. Really confused.
THIS, the me now, the me with friends and with kids who climbed into my arms, THIS wasn't who I was supposed to be. It wasn't how they were comfortable seeing me.
With the chatter and laughter and confusion as we were at the concession stand, who wants what, what colour slushie goes with the kids pack blistering blue or outrageous orange, surrounding me, I became something other than different, other than other. I became a part of humanity. Someone who was in relationship to the world, in relationship to people in the world. The world hadn't shunned me.
Those around me had to reevaluate me now. They had to recognize me as someone who, in community, had value. They had to write a different story in their minds about the life I live and how I exist in the world.
I see this happen.
There is a man with Down Syndrome that I see downtown quite regularly. He often comes into the food court near where we live and where Joe and I stop once or twice a month. When he enters the food court, alone, he gets the same smiles that I do when I enter alone. The sad smiles. Then, when he's recognized by a group that sits deep in the food court, shout rings out, "Over here!" He sees them, smiles and waves, and head over to where they are.
The faces that had looked at him with pity and with sadness twist into confusion. They don't know how to see people who are different or who are disabled who are in relationship to the world. Who aren't naturally solitary.
There are, of course, people with disabilities who are solitary, alone and lonely. I know this to be true. There are also people without disabilities who are solitary, alone and lonely. People who struggle not for COMMUNITY but for community. This is the challenge we face with the 'community living movement' ... we are far from done.
I am thankful for the various little communities that I have. I am thankful for the gift of friendship and the gift of time and the gift they have that allows them to see me. While I don't wish to be grateful for the fact that these various little communities I have challenges them, the others who other, to see me as naturally loved, and as naturally respected, and as naturally included, I am.