Thursday, March 12, 2015

The World this Week

What a week.

On Monday, I discovered “Bigger Dreams, Inc.”, a non-profit group in Florida who plan to purchase a recently closed state prison, once home to almost 500 prisoners, and convert it into housing for people with intellectual disabilities.  Segregation, isolation, incarceration – is this to remain the destiny of people with intellectual disabilities?  Have we learned nothing from a century of institutionalization?  From Huronia?  From Willowbrook – the “last great disgrace”?  Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.  Please, let us remember.

On Tuesday, Irish Catholic Bishop Kevin Doran, in a train wreck of an interview on a breakfast radio program, argued that homosexuality was not something God intended.  It would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise, he claimed, as ludicrous as suggesting that Down syndrome was something God intended.  And everyone knows that there’s no way God would ever create a child with Downs, right?  That’s obvious.

By Thursday, the inevitable global outrage at Dolan’s comments had erupted.  Activists and allies of the LGBTQ community, myself included, railed against Dolan’s ignorance, his homophobia, his complete lack of understanding of the Gospel message of love.  But the undercurrent of the opposition to the Bishop’s hateful remarks was absolute indignation at his audacity to compare being born gay – a normal part of human diversity – to being cursed with a disability as awful as Down syndrome.  How dare he equate the two?  A journalist for Irish Central wrote that obviously God didn’t intend for “cancer and Downs syndrome and leukemia and insanity and a host of other terrible misfortunes to happen”.  Obviously.

And then, in the midst of it all, Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, builder of peace, lover of weakness, was awarded one of the world’s most prestigious honours – the Templeton Prize.  My Facebook page, my Twitter feed, my radio, were filled with “a beautiful recognition of people with disabilities”.  Jean was asking questions like “Where are the schools for love?  Who will teach us to love?  Who will help us to come out from the frontiers that we lock ourselves behind?”  He was describing people with intellectual disabilities as having “taught me more than all those teachers and professors in schools and universities that I have attended.  They have taught me about what it means to be human and about how our societies can be transformed to become more peaceful and unified.”  He was speaking of how people with disabilities had taught him a love that “rises above prejudice and fear of difference”.  And the world was listening.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is.  But I know this much is true:  undoubtedly, the world is a cruel and hostile place for people with intellectual disabilities.  And undoubtedly, the world can change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is so so significant. Having a sister who is trans -- I have all my life (60+) known that people who are LBGTQ do not choose this. like Downs, it happens to them. That has never been in doubt for me. And if I'd had doubts that discrimination (which undoubtedly exists -- again, no question) was the sole reason for the pain I witnessed, I felt forced to keep those doubts to myself. I also saw as people aged, some major pain in this community that seemed to have little to do with discrimination, except, according to this community, *everything* was the result of discrimination. And yet, it was hard to not think that biology had something to do with some of the pain I saw. Biology, while not everything, isn't easily or painlessly evaded. This is also the pain of people with intellectual disabilities. I feel that the contribution that some members of the LBGTQ community offer the rest of the world is like what many who are born Downs or with other disabilities offer. All the people that I know who have or had Downs, knew they did. That knowledge was excruciatingly painful. In western culture, IQ is everything. Most people with Downs will not have families of their own, will not have jobs, will not have lives as we understand them. THey are forced to live in the midst of us without the ability to get what they want. Life -- biology -- forced this upon them. I could say I saw examples of courage, fortitude, faith -- hope -- in the face of that awed me. I also saw black depression, rage and terror. "What will become of me when I have nothing to offer the intelligent, competent, strong, heterosexual normal people? Can I depend on their fickle kindness to keep me in some semblance of family however loosely defined that is?" That is the cry that L'Arche seeks to answer. In being able to answer such a cry, those of us with the 'right' bodies, grow. We become more than heterosexual, intelligent, healthy people with only a normal allotment of caring. We become capable, through their tutelage, of forming the lasting family of man -- because none of us is born able to love unconditionally. We are all disabled in this. Such love though is the fulfillment of our vocation as humans. Only those whose lives are characterised by innate suffering have the authority to instruct us. I know the end of discrimination would not end the pain of those I knew who were core members of L'Arche. Even if society were perfectly just, life isn't. Sometimes it seems clear that justice is not all any of us need. The loneliness, desolation, disconnection of those who, for whatever reason, just don't have a body that enables them to get what they crave give us the chance to give what we all crave -- unconditional love. The tragedy of the human condition is that we all hunger for unconditional love but very very few are born able to give it. Without L'Arche, I know I would never know that and never have the chance to take those first baby steps towards developing it. Nor would I have understood how powerful it is to be loved by those who cannot desire my IQ or achievements nor care for the lack of either. Without those in our midst who cannot get what they want? Everyone, aware of it or not, is impoverished. Without those for whom some degree of disconnection and bone deep loneliness is inevitably part of life -- everyone's lives remain easy, trivial. Our western world is all about getting what we want. In fact, our economy runs on such belief. Those in our midst for whom some degree of ongoing suffering is 'normal' challenge us to change that truncated definition of life.