When you are as old as I am, when you've worked in the field of service to people with intellectual disabilities for over 40 years, you are sometimes struck by things. Small things. Things that pass by younger staff without notice. This happened to me yesterday.
I was getting into my car to go home. A young woman was leaving the day program from the door next to the one that I'd just exited. She was clearly in a rush. Just as she passed me, the door she'd come from opened again. A young man called to her. She turned at the mention of her name.
"I didn't have a chance tell you that I love you before you left."
She rushed back up to him, gave him a quick kiss and said, "I love you too."
And off she went, on her own to catch the city bus.
I know this couple. I was at their engagement party. And then, at that party, and now, seeing them so openly and freely loving one another, I am awestruck at the life they are living.
Because there was a time.
Not long ago.
That their relationship would have caused concerns.
There would have been meetings.
Lots of meetings.
There would have been plans.
Lots of plans.
There would have been intervention.
They would have been separated.
They would have been punished for seeing each other.
They would have been told that their love wasn't real.
They would have been told that their love was childish.
They would have been admonished for being silly.
They would have been advised to just forget each other.
They would have been told that it wasn't real, this love of theirs.
They would have been hurt by what we did and we wouldn't have cared.
We did bad things to people with disabilities who loved each other. We castrated men. We sterilized women. We wrote protocol and instituted procedures that followed policies that criminalized love. We made the human heart our enemy. We made love a behaviour. And we wrote plans to eliminate that behaviour.
Those of us who stood for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities to love were vilified, called perverts, and attacked as promoting sin and abuse.
They were hard times for those who promoted the right to love but they were desperate times for people with intellectual disabilities.
But now, he calls his love to her, she returns for a kiss.
They love openly.
They love without fear.
She must have wondered why I was sitting in the car crying as she went passed. She stopped to wave at me, concern on her face, I smiled through my tears and waved back. She grinned and turned and went on her way into the rest of her day.