In Short: Grateful.
I had a “heart-to-heart” with a neighbor child this morning who called a physically disabled man “retard” as he rode by him repeatedly on his bicycle. The boy isn’t naturally malicious, just exposed to a really crap role model for his parent.
That proved out when he rode up to and stopped next to the man when he returned to apologize for what he said. When the gentleman walked by he said, “Thank you,” and it was as if my cousin spoke, as I recognized the C.P. speech pattern. The boy asked me how I could understand what he said and I replied, “Because I wanted to.” The child just nodded his head in acceptance and rode off.
“Normal” Can Be a Dirty Word
Because somehow someone doesn’t fit with your personal idea of what is proper and correct, aka “normal,” that doesn’t mean that they are lacking or broken. In fact, if I had to pick, I would say that you are probably the broken one.
David was an older cousin who had cerebral palsy. He has long since passed but the few years of his life we were often together made a big impact on me.
I used to explain my ability to understand David’s “garbled noise” (as my older brother called it) as my mind adapting and creating a “filter” that straightened the words out. I really wanted to know what he was saying, so my brain worked it out — I heard words where others heard noise. How is that different than people learning new and different languages like Russian or Mandarin when English is what you were raised with? You adapt.
I was probably the only one that would walk with David without looking around to see if anyone noticed his awkward, stumbling gait. I was truly amazed at his grit and determination to walk when doctors had told his mother that he would be confined to a wheelchair. He never complained about the scrapes he got from the occasional tumble, mostly in the gravel (ouch), and the awkwardness of getting back to his feet. David walked miles every day “so his muscles wouldn’t forget how” — his words. We now know just how right he was about movement helping.
David was quite often called “retarded” or “dim-witted” by adults, which was then picked up by their kids and frequently hurled at him when he walked. Other cousins were younger and less …accommodating… is about the nicest way I can say. They either joined in on the abuse (until I stopped them with threats) or left the area claiming embarrassment.
Not only was he not mentally challenged, David was the smartest and most creative member of his family. But no one could see past his physical problems to even begin to see him, or his intellect and curiosity. He wasn’t their version of normal.
I read an analogy recently that compared being “different” to a three-legged dog. The dog’s somewhat clumsy, but when its human threw a ball, it ran after the ball and grabbed it over and over again. Sometimes it tumbled, but it just got up and ran again. It was being who it was.
Differently-abled people just want to be like that three-legged dog — allowed to live their own life, their own truth, to the best of their ability to do so, without others telling them that they don’t measure up somehow. That they aren’t “normal.”
I sometimes say, “You can’t see my reality from where you are.”
Ken Wright is a Buddhist, veteran, world traveler and the guy next door. I am unique, just like you.
Editor’s Note: Ken actually didn’t submit this to WiLt. He’s an old friend who posted this on Facebook recently, and I asked if I could share it here because I saw two lessons in it: the one the kid learned, and the one you learned so you know what to do when you see a kid acting like that. He graciously agreed.
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