Tuesday, September 27, 2016


I thought about ashes.

I tore the envelope open and ashes flew out. I was startled and stunned. Looking in the envelope for explanation I found amongst the ashes bits of paper that had not been consumed by flames, looking at it, I saw that it was from my book, "I Contact: Sexuality and People With Intellectual Disabilities." Gradually I realized that these were the ashes of my book, burnt.

I found taped to the outside, behind the address label a short letter telling me that I was a disgusting pervert, that I was sullying the innocence of the innocent and that I had no business working with people with disabilities, "God's Forever Children." I still remember that phrase.

Over the years similar things would happen to me. I have been called both the agent of Satan and a purveyor of pornography. And why? Because I believed that people with intellectual disabilities had the right to love and be loved, to fall head over heals for another person, to experience sexual intimacy. Things I still believe.

But, yesterday, I thought about the ashes and how they stained my fingers.

I was coming back from picking up lottery tickets, everyone in human services has to have a retirement plan, and zipping by a gathering spot under the escalators in a mall near my home. There are lots of places for people to sit, to talk, to eat, to have coffee. It's often full and I often see a man with Down Syndrome, of about 30, sitting there. Always alone. Sometimes having a sandwich. Sometimes a coffee. Sometimes just sitting, quietly, watching the world.

We met once before, when he was surrounded by bullies on the street. I intruded into their harassment of him and, as cowards do, they fled. We have a nodding acquaintance. Sometimes we speak, but not often. We are simply fellow disabled people that share a community together. I believe he would watch out for me, and I know he know I would for him.


He's always alone.

But yesterday, it was different. He wasn't alone. He was sitting with a woman, who also had Down Syndrome, and they were talking over coffee. I smiled. I was pleased to see that he had friends in the area, I've never seen him but alone.

And then. She kissed him.

His arms went around her shoulders, and they held on for a few seconds.

"He loves her," I thought to myself, followed immediately by, "and she loves him."

They love each other.

The enormity of that still overwhelms me. Here they are two people with intellectual disabilities out together in the community. Out together as a couple. In love. This shouldn't be surprising. This shouldn't take my breath away, but it does.

Because I can feel the ashes, still, as if it was yesterday. I can feel them soil my fingers, pages that expressed a believe in love, burnt, spilling on the floor, puddling like the blood of prejudice around my feet.

And it is yesterday.

In many places.

For many people with intellectual disabilities.

And it shouldn't be.

She kissed him. He loves her. What's to fear in that?


Unknown said...

Nothing to fear in that...for those of us who understand what it means to give and receive love.
But many people do fear love...if they have never learned how to deal with the hurts that happen in even the most loving relationships, hurts that are part of being human and imperfect and messy.

I had a good chuckle at your retirement plan for human service workers - too true!!

Belinda Burston said...

It isn't easy being a leader, a prophet (one who speaks God's heart and message to people,) but that's your calling and you fulfill it faithfully and with amazing courage, because to do so makes you/us, potential targets of hatred. That shouldn't be surprising but it still shocks and hurts. So glad that all people are freer to love than at any time in history.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

People should not be alone. Except by personal choice.

Wanting that for another person - by insisting he or she remain a child forever - is sick.

They fear the consequences - 'Society will have to take care of them!' - without realizing that someone who is unhappy probably needs more 'care.'

I'm glad your acquaintance has a friend he is comfortable kissing - and she has one, too, and if it turns into or already is something else, good for them.

tragicsandwich said...

I don't understand this at all. How can you not want someone to find love? Even if one has a very restricted definition of what love is--how do they actively want people to NOT experience even that restricted definition?

I understand fearing abuse or exploitation, but that doesn't mean I think not finding love is a good way for my daughter, or me, or anyone else to avoid those hardships. I want her to find the kind of love I have found--to be with someone who treats her with the kindness and respect that her father extends to me, and that I extend to him. I don't know who that person will be, but I know what qualities I want that person to have. And I want her to offer those qualities in return. The world needs more love.

We aren't guaranteed to find anything specific in life. But "not guaranteed" isn't at all the same as "shouldn't."