She looked like someone's beloved aunt. Smiling, glancing out from the photograph. If someone set out to take a picture of 'belonging' this might have been the one they came home with. I am holding it in my hands, looking at all the faces, but being drawn back to hers. She looked so happy. She looked so peaceful. She looked like she felt like she welcomed.
In the centre of the picture was a beautiful bride in a beautiful gown, she stood off a little to the right, dressed up beautifully, smiling as part of the group shot. Included. Welcomed. Wanted. The picture had been taken after the ceremony. The picture, the one I looked at, is tacked on the wall of the bride, now mother, who works at Vita. I had been in her office and noticed it on the wall. Joe and I had been at the wedding too. I remembered watching the picture being taken. I remembered the small group gathered around the bride. I remembered them being encouraged to huddle closely together - to get everyone in.
She has passed away.
Maybe a year ago now.
But this picture reminded me of her love of life, her deep, deep voice and her even deeper love of freedom. She had lived many years within the institution, he had walked the land of the long corridor. She had wanted to be free. She wanted to come home to the community. I know this because once, when she was in my office chatting, she spoke to me about life before and then life after.
Life after the door swung open.
Life after freedom came.
It was a moment I remember because it was a new affirmation of the 'rightness' of the struggle for freedom for people with disabilities. It was a moment that confirmed that those who were cast away for the crime of difference had suffered for the prejudices of society. It was a moment where I found myself recommitting to the ideals of 'community' and the importance of 'all.'
So I sat there in my wheelchair looking at the picture.
The picture of freedom.
The picture of welcome.
The picture of inclusion.
And knew again what it is that we do and why it is that we do it. Because somewhere, sometime, someone thought the unthinkable - that the community belonged to all. That that same someone, somewhere at sometime dared to think that 'diversity' was a big enough word to include those who had lived with exclusion. I knew again what it was that we do.
We make it possible for pictures to be taken ...
We make it possible for those pictures to hang on walls. We make it possible for people to remembered, smiling out, with a group of friends, in a picture taken at a wedding. We make it possible for those who once were caged to live freely.
I was sad to remember that she was gone.
And I was thankful that freedom came, not on time, but not too late.
It came and knocked when she was still here to answer the door.
I don't know why, when she looks so happy, I find myself crying.
What a lovely and gentle reminder of why we do what we do.
Dave, your one-two punch lines at the end...they get me every time.
Powerful stuff, here.
Very timely blog post for me as the Governor of Illinois has set the closing of two institutions in motion. The legislators have apparently been inundated with calls from people who want the institutions to remain open, and I fear the moves are at risk.
A good friend is on the team that is working with the people in the institutions, and while she cannot share details, she has told me that the desire of the people to leave the institutions is strong and clearly communicated - even by those with limited communication skills.
I pray that we move forward and ensure that all of these people have the opportunity to have such a picture taken of them very soon.
Thank you for this story. It brings to mind how I felt at the funeral of a friend, not one month ago. This person too, spent the first part of his life in an institution. However, for the last 25 years, he lived in a wonderful home surrounded by people who loved him. And the best part, it was right smack in the middle of a "middle class" neighborhood.
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