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.