I think by now everyone in the world has seen the nasty letter written by some piece of work to the grandmother of an autistic child, comparing him to a wild animal and suggesting he be euthanized. Like everyone else, I found it sickening, and my immediate thought was that the wrong person was being suggested for euthanization.
I couldn't help also feeling, however, that at least there was something concrete for people to point at and say, "This is so wrong!" Yes, the writer was anonymous, but I'd wager half the neighborhood knew exactly who it was the minute they read it. Those who love children who are a little bit different know that it isn't always that obvious. It's the little things that happen day in and day out that aren't so blatant, but that wear you down - you, who need every extra bit of energy and positive attitude just to get through a trip to the grocery store.
At the library where I work, our patrons include groups from different adult care programs. Some of those patrons come and go, but others have been regular fixtures since before I even started there. Many of them prefer to hang out in the Children's Room because, let's face it, we're just cooler over here! We have better books, art supplies, pets, and a somewhat higher tolerance for noise.
When I first took the job, I was warned that one parent expected to be able to enter the story time room through a different door, so her child would not have to pass by 'those people'. Um...no. I'll make a lot of accommodations, that is not one of them.
Let me tell you a little about some of 'those people' (names of course made up). Jacobi, for instance. She is blind, mentally challenged, and, when she is frustrated, can get a little loud. You know what? So can I. But when my voice is raised, I get a sideways glance at the most. When she shouts out her favorite swear word (peanut butter!), she gets grumbles and complaints. You know what else? When Jacobi sings...oh, my goodness. Angels have appeared. I have never heard a voice so pure and sweet. In another lifetime, Jacobi would be rendering Simon Cowell speechless. (If I were to sing, on the other hand? Let's just say the grumbles and complaints would be well-deserved.)
Or, Alice. Such a sweet soul, Alice! Always taking care of others, making sure they have their headphones for the computer before she takes her own seat. In another lifetime, she would be an awesome little Mommy, and some lucky woman's BFF. Always patient, always calm. No way could I say the same for myself.
And, Henry. He is not as mobile as I am, and will never go to college, but in the decade or so I have known Henry, I have never seen him without a grin on his face. (Explain to me, please, which one of us is handicapped?) When he sees someone he likes - which is, basically, everybody - that grin blossoms until it practically splits his face in two. Do I always greet my friends that way, like seeing them is the best thing that has happened to me all day? In another lifetime, Henry would have been the class clown. What am I saying, Henry is the class clown, and never fails to brighten my day.
Okay, so, not everybody knows these guys like I do. Not everyone appreciates their strong points. That's fine. What is not fine is the way they are treated by the so-called 'smarter' people.
No, Jacobi can't see the way you look at her - but, I can! Her mother, who loves her fiercely and always sees that she is dressed better than I am (seriously, I would kill for this girl's wardrobe) can!
Alice may not notice the way you look past her, like she isn't there - or, maybe she does. She's too polite to say anything if she does. Which one of you is more adult?
I have heard people say that we shouldn't waste public school funds on kids like Henry. He's not going to go to college, he won't get a job, why waste the money? I'd lay another wager here, that any of his former teachers or classmates would consider the brightness he brought to their days well worth the money. Who would you rather have around your workplace, someone smart and cranky, or someone who just made you happy to be there?
I feel very lucky to know these guys. I know the family of the boy that letter was written about feel blessed to have him in their lives. I feel sorry for people like the letter writer, the sneerers, the rude commenters. Their narrow vision of what makes a person worthwhile means they are missing out on a lot more of life than those they mock.