February 17, 2012

Special Needs.

All around us are the faces of those with special needs.  We joke in our house that I am the most special needs person we know.

You wouldn’t guess it from looking at me.  I’ve got a normal face.  I’m quick-witted with a snappy comeback.  But it’s true.  Parts of me are broken and parts of me are immature, developmentally delayed.

I fall within the scope of “normal” so it’s OK to joke about it and since I can function well within society, even be productive and competent within my world, I’m accepted.   I wouldn’t be afraid of eugenicists or euthanasia proponents.

Right up until the time that I’m not.  Functional.  Productive.  Competent.

Over the past few days I’ve seen a few newsy things that have given me pause.  One story was a surrogate mother being pressured to abort the little girl with a cleft palate.   Special needs. A desperate cry for support and encouragement coming through my screen. Another was a blog from a woman who has 2 Down Syndrome children.  She home-schools.  All her children educated beside each other.  Touching each other.  Sprawled across the floors.   Two on a chair in front of the computer at the table.

Special needs living right beside the “normal”.  Both being strengthened by the other.

Both allowed to live.

Abortion is a terrible, dirty, abominable thing.  My mother was encouraged to abort me.  Because I was the 6th child.  Because she was an older mom.  Because it was 1974 and all the cool kids were doing it.   Six years later, my little brother came along and they told her he’d be damaged.  Possibly retarded.    He’s not.  They were wrong.

How many stories have you heard about the doctors being wrong?  How many tiny babies have pulled through against all odds?  How many families, cities, nations have been transformed by a single life?

It is not only blind arrogance that has driven us to this holocaust of the unborn it is a calloused conscience and an abandonment of compassion.

We learn compassion by walking beside those weaker than ourselves.  We learn humility by seeing the integration and interconnectedness that can only be found by living with those who cannot help themselves.

One day that could be me. It could be you.

There is no one I know who is not special needs.  We have all fallen and need help to stand.  Sometimes those special needs look like almond shaped eyes and a childish lisp.   Sometimes the socially awkward autistic genius in the back needs special space and encouragement.  Sometimes the beautiful and the bold are emotionally vacant and they need to learn to soften and to grow beyond their limitations.

I have found life is so much less about winning and so much more about enduring.  What is there to be gained by being first and all alone?  Have we truly lived less by being last and surrounded by love?

Oh, the blind foolishness of the young and strong, it keeps us from seeing our own destiny.   With hair-dye and Botox we fight the onset of aging.  With gym memberships, obsessions with diet, and empty spirituality we hide our deteriorating frames from the eyesight,  judgement, and criticism of this society which idolizes the strong and, at best, ignores the needy.  At our worst we pass laws to destroy them.  Ignoring their right to live by superimposing our right to not be bothered by them.

We hide our weak and our broken away from us in institutions and nursing homes.  Removed from the population in their isolated classrooms and senior centers we can live without their faces on our collective conscience.

What are we afraid of?  Are we afraid of not being enough for their intense need?   It’s valid.  We aren’t enough.   So, why bother, right?  Are we afraid of being somehow contaminated by their weakness? Of losing our own independence?

That makes me laugh.  We are all strong and independent until, well, the power goes down, the car runs out of gas, until the money is gone.

Then we have need.  Sitting in darkness, in the quiet of a dead car,  in the hopelessness of a pile of bills that cannot be paid, we hope someone will come and help us.  Someone will see and respond.  Someone will take a moment from their self-focused existence to reach out to us.

It’s in those moments that we really aren’t all the different from the Special Needs.   They have the honesty to recognize their lack.  We hide ourselves from our weakness and pretend.

Someday I will be old.  I will be frail.  I could find out tomorrow I have cancer.  I could lose it all in a fire. Economic collapse.

Who will reach out to me?

Only those who have looked at the world and stretched themselves to learn and live with compassion.   Only those who have practiced mercy when it has not been popular or easy.

God have mercy on us.   Not that we deserve it.

When I was eleven Grandma came to live with us.  It was hard.  She was frail.  Weak.  Losing her mind.  We took care of her.  When our resources were stretched too far and we could no longer  care for her?  We visited her weekly in the nursing home.   Her face would light up, we’d eat butterscotch pudding off her tray, and we’d love her. We were a bright spot of joy in the middle of a room of gray haired, wrinkled, parchment skinned doctors, lawyers, mothers, husbands.  People. Alone.

So few came.  So few would even visit them.

A sunny room with lifetimes of wisdom.  Hands that had served. Arms that had loved.  Humanity in wheelchairs, voices lost, left to dry up and blow away.

All my life there have been Special Needs people around me who were loved, appreciated, even admired.  My second cousin, as he drooled into his vacuum cleaner attachment and laughed at inappropriate times, still made us giggle with him at the wonder of life all around us.  Besides, he shared his motorized scooter.  And that was AWESOME.

I haven’t said this as elegantly as I had intended but my heart is screaming out that we lose who we are created to be by ignoring those who need us.

If we are given the gift of strength, of intellect, of purpose, it is to stand for those who are not.  It is to clear the way, walk beside, protect, encourage.

It is for THIS that we are created in the image of God.

I suppose that is why it is so often the very thing we despise.



  • Thank you for this from the bottom of my heart. “There is no one I know who is not special needs” – a tender truth.