Sunday, January 9, 2011


This past week I was delivered quite the blow when someone with whom I associate closely revealed a life philosophy that did not sit well with me at all.

Without going into too much detail, Person X voiced intentions to proceed with a personal situation in such a way to suggest X believes A) The occurrence of disabilities in the human race is something to lament B) People should not have to be born into this world with defects if it can be helped.

My first reaction when I caught wind of this person's intentions second hand was extreme defensiveness. The more I pondered the connotations of such a choice, the more saddened I became.

I don't wish to go on a rant to plead my case on the value of all life. But, let me make it clear that my stance on ethics, as well as the foundations of my faith, both plainly contradict X's view on Point B.

Jesus says, "Blessed be the meek for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5)

Isaiah 11:4 says, "With righteousness he will judge the needy."

The scripture pertaining to the "humble" and "needy" says nothing of their unfortunate circumstances and the need to eliminate them from future generations. In fact, quite the opposite. Most scripture points to granting the utmost regards to these people--therefore putting extreme value on their livelihoods.

That being said, what concerned me more about the connotations of X's statement was Point A--Children and adults with disabilities are walking, breathing tragedies. They are chromosomal errors, neural malfunctions, physical deformations, helpless victims of terrible environments. They turn their parents' heads gray with worry and care. They require endless time, resources, and people just to function in the home, school and society. They will miss out on some or all of the rituals and rites of passage and landmarks of a normally developing individual. Their lives will ever reflect unanswered "What if's".

As a special education teacher, I acknowledge I have a skewed outlook on this population. I can concede the fact that disabilities are abnormalities in the science of human composition and/or exceptions to typical social development. I can also concede that my first experiences interacting with and working with people with moderate to severe disabilities were very uncomfortable situations, and that I have seen first hand the pain and frustration their disabilities cause those who love them and care for them every day. I certainly get my daily dose of challenges attempting to work with and mold these children, and there are certainly many days I entertain the thought of how much better this child's life (and my life--who are we kidding, really?) would be he didn't carry the burden of disability with him.

Perhaps it's my years of experience with these type of people that has allowed me to see the silver lining on the cloud, and even the blue sky peeking out behind it. But, that doesn't mean everyone else in the world is excused for their lack of understanding about the blessings people with disabilities are to the world.

There's no excuse for failing to see the way they remind us not to take life so seriously because some things--like getting through the grocery line as quickly as possible, or hitting all green lights on the commute to work--don't really matter in the end.

There's no excuse for failing to see how they add welcomed diversity and variety in a sea of people who rely so painfully on fitting in and being accepted, that they are actually happy with melting into a faceless sea of anonymity and apathy.

There's no excuse for failing to see how interacting with them can teach us patience, love, courage, determination, and many more virtues we yearn to attain.

"Wow, Miss T," you might be thinking. "You've just listed off a ton of ways other people benefit from the sufferings of that person. What about the exceptional person's happiness?"

Well, I can't say that I really have a good answer for why people with disabilities are allowed to suffer emotional and physical angst beyond the normal allotment for the rest of the world. I've certainly seen these individuals struggle with their limitations and mental tribulations, and it is certainly heartbreaking. But, I also find in them a courage and lust for life--the simple things--that I don't think "normal" people are even capable of. When I see the student with down syndrome in our school at the lunch table laughing wildly (some might even say "inappropriately") to herself, I wonder if she's in on a joke that none of us can be attuned to. When I marvel at the student with autism rattling off math facts at a superhuman rate in a corner all by himself, I wonder if the joy he is experiencing from escaping the rest of the world and entering his own provides him more joy than being surrounded with 100 friends. Perhaps these individuals are much more blessed than we can ever understand from our vantage points-- outside looking in.

Small victories. For anyone who seems incredulous about the prospect of teaching or caring for a person with disabilities, this is the basis for my response. While the rest of the world celebrates Olympians and geniuses and beauty queens, I celebrate a child finishing his homework by himself, greeting me at the door for the first time, or making a friend. And unlike the epic victories celebrated by the rest of the world every once in a blue moon, I experience mine every day--sometimes many times a day. I am so fortunate for this perspective only a select few will have in their lifetimes. I have to believe that parents or caretakers or even the people with the disabilities themselves, all have to resonate with this sentiment on some small level.

Small victories, Person X. Not sweating the small stuff, seeing the blessings, and lauding the humble and the needy, Person X. It's what life is really supposed to be made of. So, why not let it live?

Your homework for the night:

Who are some of the people with challenges--or--challenging people--you have in your life? Stop and see through the frustrations and pain to reflect on the blessings being in this person's life has granted you.

Class dismissed.

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