He was resolute. All around him were frustrated. A man who used to love the community, going to the cafe, playing pool at a small pool hall, hanging around the mall - stopped. Just stopped. He was nearly thirty, had lived comfortably all his life with his Down Syndrome, he knew who he was and liked who he was. But then, suddenly things changed. It seemed that one day he noticed being noticed. For years he had simply not seen the stares or heard the giggles. He didn't associate the horrid 'r' word with who he was, didn't realize it was being used against him. But suddenly, one day, he woke up to the prejudice that had surrounded him. He was devastated. Flat out devastated. His response was simply to not go out. He decided that he'd had enough of social violence and the casual cruelty of strangers. That was it. I was to help motivate him to go back out into the community.
I thought of him yesterday as I got ready to go down to the car to make our way to Chatham and Wallaceburg where I was to spend a couple days. I thought of him as I got my sweater on. I thought of him as I pushed my chair down the empty hallway to the elevators. I thought of him as I rode down the the lobby - a busy lobby where there are always lots of people. I thought of him and I understood him. Really. Finally.
Being cocooned in my home due to illness was frustrating on one hand, I like to be out and about. But, I enjoyed simply being in a place of absolute safety. Where I was me, simply me, in all my glory. I wasn't 'hey look at the fat guy'. I wasn't 'hey, it's amazing the wheelchair doesn't give out under him'. I wasn't 'God, it must be horrid to be in a wheelchair.' I wasn't the stared at one. I wasn't the talked about one. I wasn't the one who didn't fit. Here, at home, I fit just fine. We live our lives well and easily together. There is a temptation to give into the desire to just say 'to hell with it - I'm staying where I'm wanted'. I can't do that, of course, I have a life and I have things to do. But as I pushed down towards the elevators that would take me down into that life, I knew I was leaving safety. I knew I was leaving sanctuary.
It takes courage to be in the world. True courage. To see being seen. To notice being noticed. To hear what is meant to hurt. It's not easy.
Then today I worked with some people with disabilities in a hotel conference room. I saw them negotiate the same social world that I do. They are looked at for different reasons, but they are still looked at. They are noticed with different eyes, but they are still noticed. They too, hear words, whispered loud enough to hear. But I saw them laughing and talking with each other and their care providers. I watched them 'living anyways' maybe 'living in spite of ... not in spite of disabilities ... but in spite of spite.'
They got up and went out.
I got up and went out.
There is no cheer, except perhaps, in the deepest heart of freedom.