Sunday, February 10, 2008



One word and I was thrilled. It took him a long time, and I waited. His lips quivered for what seemed like forever and then he spoke. A deep voice. A voice rarely used. "Chocolate." The question had been, "What makes you happy." Others in the group had willingly and eagerly answered the question. I saw him looking at me, his eyes bright, I knew he wanted to answer.

About 15 people with disabilities had gathered to chat with me about rights, about life, about getting on in the world. It was a bit more general than what I typically do - so it was more fun, more directed by the group, less need to rush through an established curriculum. More time to listen to someone who's eyes say 'pick me'.

I went to him to ask what made him happy. A few called out that he couldn't speak. But my heart knew. Just knew, that he had something to say. He said only one word in response to the question about happiness, "Chocolate." There was victory in his face when the word came out. A smile slowly spread, transforming his face the way icing transforms a cake.

He had been sitting quietly the whole day. He came in with the assistance of a staff who gently found him a chair and with real care wished him a good time. With his placid face and rounded shoulders, he looked like he was used to a life of waiting and watching. But his eyes gave his secret away, there was someone home in there.

The next thing we talked about, in our review of emotions was 'sad' - "What are some things that make you sad?" Again, others more eager, those more able, were quick to call out thing that had caused them hurt. I glanced over at him. Again, I knew. I looked straight at him and said his name, his eyes which hadn't left mine, blinked acknowledgement, "What makes you sad?"

Again lips trembled and words formed with difficulty somewhere deep inside him, but this time he spoke more than a word, he spoke a sentence, an idea, his history, "Teasing and hurting makes me sad." His jaw was set. It was like he had waited a lifetime to say this. To make a statement about the world and what it had done to him. To point an accusing finger at those who had hurt him.

The room fell, suddenly, silent. Every person in that room had heard his voice. Every person knew what he was talking about. He had broken silence. Not simply the silence of one, but the silence of many. To those who would glance at him, he who sits in the manner of the deeply disabled, they might miss the person who lives within him, the being behind the eyes, but not today. Today he wanted to be with us, part of us, and he wanted to tell the truth.

At the end of the day, I told him that I still had a day of training to do with staff and parents. I told him that because of what he said I would change what I had planned and talk to them about teasing and bullying. I asked him if I could write about what he said, share what he had told me, he said, 'Yes.'

I know that people with disabilities are teased and brutalized. I know that teasing is often violent and always hurtful. But as I watched him slowly walk out of the room, I wondered about the depravity of those who would pick this man to be their victim. I wondered about the need some have to establish rank by violence. I wondered at a world that can't agree ... at least ... to care, a little, for someone who asks, and asks quietly, for chocolate.


Anonymous said...

Wow! I love reading about moments like this. This is why you are the best activist blog.

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking about how *easily* I take advantage of the things that make me happy in this life. I should be more grateful.

I think Charlie's voice has been heard for miles and miles.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy you had the opportunity to listen.


Kei said...

Thanks for helping him voice himself. And for letting him know that what he said, matters.

Unknown said...

In my opinion you are not only an excellent writer, but, what's even more precious, you are a very good guy. One who clearly belongs to a limited group of people who wouldn't hurt anybody, certainly not on purpose. Even if they have been hurt themselves.
For people like you, one would wish a place like Heaven exists.

I have been moved by your story today.

Belinda said...

Sometimes words fail me and this is one of them, but I "saw" this man and "felt" his soul through your words.

Some people; even though stripped down to essential elements of communication; can say more through two or three words and their eyes, than I can say in a hundred. Thanks for making his voice so loud.

wendy said...

I haven't responded to a post in quite a while. So often I just can't think of a single intelligent thing to say in light of what you have just written. Today is no exception. I have nothing to say...only that I am moved.

Anonymous said...

What a sweet story and what a sweet spirit you have. You know, we all want to be acknowleged, to know that what we have to say counts for something. Thank you for the opportunity you provided for that man and for me as well. You are priceless!

Anonymous said...

I read this close to tears. Thank you for allowing him to express himself. Much love..

David said...

A great post. Congratulations on your blog activist award.

Did you see the recent story about a boy with CP who was beaten by his classmates? I found the superintendent's response to be very upsetting. She said it was "unfortunate." I wrote about it on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Dave, thank you for taking the time to listen to this fellow. Having a significant speech impairment myself, I'm typically the quiet one of the group, even though I have much to contribute. Thank goodness for blogging.

Thank you for creating a space where he felt safe to risk being heard and understood. That is invaluable.