For those of you missing the China posts, I miss China, too! I wrote a poem about it:
It is a spring morning in central Jersey.
And yet, when I emerge from my car in the parking garage, construction whirling in the distance, I am distinctly reminded whereby the crispness of this air, the particular squeakiness of these birds, and the unmistakable mix of blacktop and freshness of the same season in a city in South China.
Said city holds no particular place in the Chinese imaginary when it comes to urban notables; in fact, it conjures adjectives like “backwards” and “primitive” from the mouths of cabbies across China. But five years removed from my life there and cobbled sidewalks encased from endless traffic by massive palm fronds, I wonder if quaint is an adjective that one can put toward a city of seven million for which I am undeniably, yet foolishly homesick.
I recall how dodging the passersby dotting the sidewalk, I would sprint on a morning such as this, down to South Lake, and feel it my quiet oasis. In China, I learned the comfort of never being alone.
Despite the traffic that roared across the highway carving the lake in two and the never desolate state of the footbridge, pretending to climb but nay drudge up it in the dank humidity was my respite, my triumph.
Alongside the elderly people swatting their arms and strolling the banks or the young men in track suits with more ambition than athleticism, I felt deliciously inconspicuous, enfolded in the lush, yet urban landscape.
When I long for China, I like to think it’s not merely as a vagrant or a tourist but as an adherent and an old friend.
You see in China, I learned the distinct pleasure of anonymity alongside the crowded comfort of never being alone. There’s something pleasurable in recollecting that those runs along South Lake were never quite my own but belong dutifully and contentedly to the city they call Nanning.
However, as a scholar of disability and a parent of a child with disabilities, these headlines and their rhetoric sounded all the alarm bells. Surely a unified public that holds our erratic and impulsive president accountable to for his actions is to be welcomed–but not at the expense of the dignity of people with disabilities in America. Indeed, what is hardly subtle, but seemingly unnoticeable to readers of headlines like these and their content is the blatant criminalization and marginalization of people with disabilities in them. For instance, just try replacing “disability” in Will’s headline with any other identity, ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation, and suddenly Trump’s main reason to be feared—his presumed disability—reveals a startling prejudice toward difference in America.
Even if Will is onto something here in observing Trump’s inabilities, I suggest that he has inadvertently used disability as a vehicle to make the dangerous even more insidious, corrupt, and devoid of rehabilitation by appealing to some seemingly innate, suspiciously subhuman defect. Such rhetoric imperceptibly recycles previous tropes in the media that cast people with mental illness as unusually aggressive and pin gun violence on their disproportionate crimes—stereotypes that do not hold up statistically and are vestiges of longstanding cultural prejudices toward people who are “mad” or “insane.” The headline that highlights Will’s own words, “George Will: Trump has a ‘disability,’ is ‘uniquely unfit’” goes beyond these associations to imply that people with disabilities are somehow unfit to serve in office by virtue of their mental, physical, or emotional differences. The problem with Will’s tactic here and with rampant allegations that Trump has a disability are that they do nothing to cross this divide between able-bodied and disabled citizens, decry inaccurate stereotypes or effect genuine understanding. Rather disability remains but a vehicle and a scapegoat for our fears about Donald Trump or more disturbingly, a scapegoat for our fears about humanity.
Yet, perhaps the greatest issue with Will’s column is that by criminalizing people with disabilities, he not only perpetuates their stigma, but also draws attention away from the very discrimination that Trump himself, his cabinet, and his commitment to repealing the Affordable Care Act have reinforced against people with disabilities in America today. Who can forget the moment Trump cruelly mocked a reporter with cerebral palsy during his campaign, only to claim that it never actually happened? In her hearing, Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos failed to acknowledge the national purview of the IDEA, a piece of legislation that protects and guarantees education for students with disabilities; his Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also made derisive and deriding comments about children with disabilities. Finally, the GOP American Health Care Act that President Trump and Republicans just cheered as it passed through the House levels $880 billion dollars in cuts to Medicaid over the next ten years that would deprive people of disabilities, namely my daughter, from important medical, educational, and accessibility services. While George Will decries Trump’s dangerous disability and readers clamor to dangerously speculate themselves, these are the real yet hidden dangers of a Trump presidency for people with disabilities.
Meanwhile a month ago before the original version of the AHCA Bill was set to come before the House, I received a call from my Republican Congressman, Leonard Lance (NJ-7). When we hit connection issues, our call dropping nearly four or five times, he called me back again and again. When he finally got me, he took over fifteen minutes to get to know me as a pastor, a professor and especially a mother, taking a keen interest in my daughter who is thriving through a Managed Long-Term Special Services program (MLTSS) afforded to her through Medicaid. He told me one of the main reasons he was voting against the bill was to protect that program, as well as protect people on the Medicaid expansion. He understands and made clear that poor people and people with disabilities are the very people that should not be denied healthcare, no matter the changes Republicans or Democrats want to make. Last week, he kept his word and voted against the House Bill that passed; he didn’t vote with his party—he voted with people like my daughter and me.
I certainly agree with Will and his readers that real life bipartisan unity, the likes of which is offered by Lance’s vote and his positions on people with disabilities, is even more critical in the face of the House passage of the abhorrent AHCA, Trump’s most recent egregious firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the lack concern he shows for rule of law or the cares of his constituents. But if the biggest divides in this country remain not partisan but based upon fear of disability and its inhumanity, then we are in much more dire straits that I thought. I know far too well that when people ridicule Medicaid, they don’t think about kids like my daughter. When they see her, they often look past her, and to many, she may be a strain on taxpayers dollars, a basket full of preexisting conditions. But as a Democratic Congressman, Joe Kennedy (MA-4) so eloquently put it, “among the most basic human truths” is this unifying vulnerability of the human condition.
If we are to move forward, we must have the conviction to confront Trump’s ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry on the basis of this shared humanity, not on the backs of people with disabilities. We must make it clear that Trump is uniquely dangerous–but more precisely because of the way he has continually undermined the very humanity of people with disabilities.
“No parent wants their child to be different,” she said passionately yet nonchalantly, looking innocently into the camera in this week’s premiere episode of a new season of the reality tv show, Little People, Big World. She was talking about the possibility that their baby would be born with dwarfism, while meanwhile her husband, a little person, shifted uncomfortably in his chair, trying to parse the divide, forgive her somehow for saying that his very difference, one she presumably accepted and loved, was so naturally undesired, bad–something to be feared.
I don’t mean to pick on her specifically.
I think many of us bristle at the presentation of disease and disability as unwanted variations and aberrations in nature’s otherwise rather painstaking track record for miracles, successes, and beauty. But what if I told you there were all sorts of dormant mutations in your own genetic material? What if I told you that nature “makes mistakes” all the time and it’s just that some of these variations are visible while others are less so? What if I told you that Lucia, my own daughter, was the result of one of those presumed “mistakes,” so rare, so different, yet so deeply loved and wanted? Might that change your mindset that difference is always something to be naturally avoided or eschewed at all costs?
Underneath the reality tv star’s seemingly innocent words ran a subtle, yet deep vein of privilege and conceit. Anyone who cared would prevent difference if they could, she presumed. But different to whom, I wondered. Black kids are born into a pretty inhospitable world, but it’s not their blackness that’s a problem but the normative white culture that devalues their lives. Gay and transgender kids aren’t really all that different than any other kids and yet their difference is targeted as an assault on heteronormative culture that reproduces itself through fear and exclusion. As long as difference remains the much feared, undesirable cultural alternative to healthy and white and straight and male, we desecrate the true variety and value of human life that God has made because we play God ourselves–even if it is ever so subtly with our wishing away of certain babies like mine.
And yet, this world, this country specifically, is becoming extremely inhospitable toward my daughter month by month. As a parent of a child with special needs, I want to live in a country that accepts and loves and cherishes children who are different– not with asterisks or snide comments or fearful glances or knowing pity or minimal health care or scant education–but full stop. Don’t tell me how expensive my child’s medical expenses are or how arduous her special education is, how different her needs are from a typical child, how wildly incompatible they are with this cutthroat ability-obssessed culture we live in, because I really do know. I know this isn’t easy because I’m living it alongside her.
But I made peace with Lucia’s challenges years ago; we’ve gone on living this incredibly full life and we’ve been buoyed by our church, friends, family, and the incredible array of services NJ Medicaid provides. Our family has found refuge in a state that truly values her life, but for how long? How long will you continue to live by the conceit or the privilege that your life is somehow any different from ours? How long will you fear rather than embrace difference, support legislation that carves us off from one another by our differences, asserts hierarchy in nature when you know not what mutation, future, or controversy may come–legislation that makes health the luxury and priority of the rich?
Control over the progression of my daughter’s disease is a true illusion, but the choice to value her life and give her every chance possible–that’s firmly in your hands and mine.
For those of you who know me well, you know I’ve spent the last year reading almost everything I can get my hands on about the Enneagram and I’ve become somewhat of an evangelist for the personality tool among my friends and family.
Ironically my first foray into the Enneagram was not so entrancing–when I had to do a routine psych evaluation for ministry preparation, the instructor rather used my found type against me, arguing that perhaps it explained my aggression, hostility, and even atypical masculine characteristics! Among people who know the Enneagram well, it’s not a secret that female 8s get a bad rap and are often misunderstood. So that’s why it’s all the more profound that a few days ago, I think I finally realized what’s so powerful and meaningful about being an 8 in this world–a personality I haven’t always found so compelling or easy to live with.
Now if you’re new to the Enneagram, it may sound like I’m speaking another language. But simply put the Enneagram is a personality system that groups our personalities into 9 types, but unlike Myers-Briggs or other personality systems, you’re not easily diagnosed through a test, because it’s a dynamic, interactive, relational system. According to the Enneagram, the best parts of you are also the worst parts of you, so people don’t always find it “easy” or “happy” to find out their types, but thankfully, the system also allows for and encourages dynamic growth.
For my own part, and especially as an anthropologist, I think the Enneagram’s best, most basic reminder is that even if we’re from the same family, we don’t necessarily see the world the same way. But other ways of seeing aren’t bad; in fact, they’re what make the world a much more interesting and beautiful place! One of the best takeaways for me from learning the Enneagram is not just understanding myself better but also building more compassion inside myself for others in respecting and empathizing with the beautiful, perplexing ways they approach life that make the world a much more complicated, but fuller place. Essentially the Enneagram affirms one of the basic tenets of anthropology: our differences make us human!
Therefore, if you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram and even figuring out your type, I’d recommend that you read about all the types, and perhaps in lieu of taking a test, read some of these great descriptions of each type, paying attention to the core values, the things that make you tick (you can scroll down for my suggestions for further resources below). Enneagram types are complex in that they don’t tell you what a person’s vocation will be or whether they will be successful, but rather tell you more about that person’s motivation in life and some of the challenges they face and gifts that they possess.
But as I mentioned, when a lot of people find out their Enneagram type, they recognize it primarily because of the flaws they can see so clearly in themselves, while they fail to acknowledge or hone the strengths that inhabit their way of seeing the world. As an 8 (with a 7 wing), “the challenger,” someone who is a natural born leader, makes decisions incredibly quickly, and is fearless, I had been really struggling with an experience of vocational discernment as of late. In fact, because of these impetuous and quick-witted qualities, I kept remarking to my “spiritual director” that I suck at discernment: the waiting game, the listening game, the methodical weighing of options is just not me. And as someone who is much more inclined to rely on my mind rather than my heart, I bemoaned my lack of intuition.
However, this type of thinking ignores some of the qualities which make 8s truly exceptional. Because of my gusto, I am truly and uniquely fearless. This certainly becomes a weakness in that I may struggle to emphasize and understand the insecurities others often face on a daily basis, but in my own life, when I see a challenge, I am invigorated, affirmed, and inspired. Sign me up, I think. I’m all about taking risks, I scoff. Bring it on!
Thus, in my life when I have been able to reframe uncertainty and discernment as a challenge, I’ve been able to very quickly embrace the adventure that God has in store for me, not worrying about the consequences or the trials of that risk but plowing full steam ahead. (As I told one of my friends recently, I may be a battering ram, but I can be a battering ram for Jesus!) What I’ve noticed in discernment and uncertainty, though, is that I have a tendency, as many of us do, to try to usurp control (how very 8 of me) from God. I spin into full-on planner mode, determined to think through the details of my future, when the very best that God has for me may not even be visible yet.
My spiritual director has invited me to ponder God’s faithfulness by asking me, “Think of the five greatest things in your life. Which ones were you responsible for? Now which ones did God provide?” Indeed, as a person of faith, in spite of any Enneagram personality knowledge, I am committed to living the life that God has for me. And I’ve realized that this involves abdicating my long-term planning role to God. Ironically, uncertainty and long-term planning are two things that in my penchant to control, send me spiraling out of control, leading away from my strengths and gifts as a passionate 8 who leads with vision and conviction.
I’m not alone in these insights, though. There are many, many people of faith who have begun to draw upon the Enneagram for wisdom not just about who we are, but who we are in God. For me, I’ve started to see how unique it is that I love a good challenge and that I’m not afraid, and I’ve become even more convicted to strive toward the unique vocation (somewhere between anthropology and ministry) that God has for me, even though the world may not always understand that call. 8s are often known for being resilient and strong, and I realize now that this takes “guts.” Even though I may lack for what I termed intuition, I am at my best when I’m relying on and hungering after God, throwing all of myself into that new challenge and adventure!
How has the Enneagram helped you live more fully into your purpose in God? What lessons have you learned about God and faith by getting to know yourself better?
Thanks to so many of you who called, wrote letters, and spoke to your members of Congress, I feel like I can breathe again for the first time in weeks. I feel hope and lightness and strength, and I can’t thank you enough!
But most of all, I feel like the outpouring of support reminds me that while I can’t take it for granted and the fight to protect people with disabilities, the poor, the elderly, and the most vulnerable in our country is far from over, I hear that the voices who value those lives in this country have gotten louder, more expressive, and more proud. A few days ago, the burden that I felt to make my daughter’s story and her value known felt very singular and heavy. But what’s so sweet about hope is that burdens are lifted when responsibility and love and care become shared.
Thank you so much for sharing our burden, but most of all, thank you for realizing that Lucia’s life has never been and doesn’t deserve to present a burden to her or to us or to any family who just wants their child to grow and thrive. Let’s keep fighting so that we can all keep growing by living in a society that values so many different kinds of people and deems them all worthy of health, education, life, and love.
Onward, my friends. And thank you for renewing my hope!
Tears came to my eyes and my voice cracked as I told my mom over the phone today,
“It was only recently that we found a way to stop worrying that Lucia would die and decided to love her so fiercely and just live life together. And now we’re afraid everyday that she might lose the benefits that make her life so wonderful.”
How can we when our private employer insurance granted through one of the most prestigious universities in the world denies all the things she needs from in-home nursing services to wheelchairs to surgeries and nearly everything in between?
We’ve learned the hard way that private insurance companies will never cover Lucia’s needs because they’re deemed too expensive, too rare, too disadvantageous. So when Lucia was 6 months old, I began filling out paperwork for New Jersey state Medicaid, a process so complicated I could hardly navigate it, even though I have a Ph.D., a Masters, and a Bachelor’s degree. For 6 months we paid out of pocket for all the things that our employer plan wouldn’t cover and we racked up nearly $10,000 in medical expenses.
But things started to shift when we got the first person from the state’s Early Intervention program into our home; she took one look at Lucia shrieking in pain and me helpless to comfort my child and told me, “You shouldn’t have to do this alone. We can help.” And I will never forget those words. 6 months later when Lucia got onto the NJ State Medicaid MLTSS program (Managed Long Term Special Services for kids with outstanding medical needs and disabilities), everything changed. Suddenly, our secondary insurance through the state stepped in to pick up the tab on the myriad of services our private insurance denied. Those giant insurance bills and many of our worries about how we could pay and support her future melted away.
We felt that we had found an incredible safety net in the state of New Jersey. We bought a house here in a school district well-known for going above and beyond for supporting kids with special needs. And Lucia has been taking the bus to a wonderful special needs school; the social worker in our district has been undyingly supportive of our requests. The school district is willing to foot the bill for those bus trips, special equipment, and extra support in the classroom. And Lucia comes home from school everyday babbling (literally babbling) and smiling and laughing because she couldn’t be happier.
But I’m begging you to not take any of this (and this is really what makes America great) for granted either. Indeed, I am so thankful to live in a country where I can speak out and where my voice can make a difference. I have spoken to my member of Congress; he’s a Republican, but he’s willing to fight to protect both the NJ MLTSS program and the Medicaid expansion because he knows how much they matter to families like ours. And I’m thrilled. I have hope, but I am also stressed. Living and loving a child whose circumstances are so uncertain has never been easy. And doing so now when you feel like you have to fight for the very programs that have made such a difference is something I barely have time for in between all those medical appointments and insurance calls and nursing schedules and therapy visits.
But, you guessed it–I don’t take any of that for granted either.
I had this one fear when I realized that Lucia had Aicardi-Goutieres Syndrome and would likely live a rather unconventional life. It wasn’t that she would be different–as an anthropologist (and a minister), I’ve learned to embrace difference, and the foster mothers I studied in China had enumerated the ways in which people very different from us often expand our very knowledge of ourselves and what it means to be human.
But I whispered to a few people and I worried in my heart of hearts that while Lucia might be able to receive love, she might never be able to give or express it.
I don’t think I worried it selfishly (although certainly naively), but I just thought about my own life and how much I’ve learned and received and grown by the very challenging act of learning to love others–not just receiving love–and I guess I couldn’t quite imagine, amidst days on end of shrieks of pain, colossal brain damage, and multiple disabilities, what that would really look like for Lucia.
On the eve of her first day of school and just past her third birthday, however, I not only finally see how much I underestimated her and God but how much a person can say without much purposeful movement, without words, or without rolling or crawling or walking or talking. I underestimated how much joy can emanate from such tiny, immobile person–how by the age of 3 Lucia has taught me more about love than I’d learned in maybe three whole decades–how her way of loving would change everything I thought I knew about God and life and love.
“Do you think she knows you?” people will ask my husband and me, and there are things we will tell them, like how she cocks her head and her eyes focus for just a split second when she’s really listening or when perhaps her limited vision has allowed her to take in some glimpse of the world. Or how she recently started to erupt into fits of giggles when she hears her daddy make farting noises or how a slow smile seems to creep over her face when my husband or I set foot upon the creaky boards in our noisy house. Or how there are times when you take her in your arms and she seems to wrap her rigid little arms around you in a way that makes you feel known and held and real.
But it’s all very hard to tell or describe, because you can’t break joy or love down to a science. How do you know your child loves you? You just do. There’s a feeling between you and it doesn’t go just one way when it’s felt–it’s a shared cultivation, this business of living and being loved. And how I ever thought it possible for that love to be unrequited now feels so distant and so foolish and so naive.
And so I can’t really find it in myself to worry about how Lucia will do when she goes to school. Lucia will do just fine. We know she will grow so much by being around other kids and by learning and by moving–she’ll thrive in a social environment, for sure. But those people around her–I’m almost more excited for them. Because they will be loved with a joy so deep and so profound and so beyond any of our imaginations that they will grow in these ways that none of us ever imagine to be possible.
Lucia reminds me how much more there is to be learned from those who seem the least capable, the most impaired, the least adept at the things in life and that there’s something of God’s love in every speck of our beings however imperfectly or perfectly made we may appear.
We love because God first loved us. Every single one of us. Even my Lucia.
The first year I was teaching in the writing program Lucia was diagnosed with Aicardi-Goutieres Syndrome just a month after her first birthday. I remember that despite the cake and the guests, there was a somberness to that first birthday. Lucia couldn’t eat the cake we made, because she’d just begun feeding through a tube a few months prior. We worried that she’d spit up violently during the party like she often did or that she’d scream in pain most of the time. But mostly we felt intent to celebrate because we didn’t know how many birthdays we’d have and we were desperate and determined to have that first one even if it wasn’t perfect.
Later that summer I began to wonder what God was doing.
I’d spent years doing research in China studying foster families who raise children with disabilities; disability in China had become so unexpectedly a professional, academic interest. And then we had our own child with special needs and it all felt a bit too close for comfort. People wondered about the order of things: surely you planned to study disability because of your own child? No, it was the other way around? They’d shake their heads disconcertedly, unnerved, perplexed. It felt reductive to presume God had been equipping us in China to be Lucia’s parents or a bit simplistic and crass to pronounce that Lucia’s disability and our relationships with families in China had all been a part of God’s plan, but it was also hard not to see it that way either.
But somewhere along the way, I began to embrace what God was doing even if I didn’t gully understand it. I began to dream that summer about a writing course about disability, but would students want to take such a course, I wondered. When we develop our writing courses our directors always encourage us to get inside the minds of 18 year olds arriving at college, and so the most popular classes are on madness, New York, extra-terrestrials, and film. Would a course on disability really be something freshman students would care about?
I’m not sure how popular my course has been, but every semester, two groups of twelve students walk in the door. Many of them come because they have a family member who has a disability, and they want to understand and talk about it. Some of them are just curious. I’m sure for several of them, my course wasn’t their first choice and they just ended up there by chance.
But I try to make the most of that chance.
The course considers disability as a form of diversity, a form of difference, and challenges the students to think beyond what they thought they knew about disability to reconsider how disability can teach us more about what it means to be human. At an elite, ivy league university, the thought that people with intellectual disabilities might be insightful when it comes to our knowledge about humanity it a particularly challenging, counter-cultural thought. For some of my students that dissonance, having a brother back at home who struggles to speak because of his autism, while they are thousands of miles away, toiling for the mere self-improvement of their own mind, is nearly too much to bear. During a routine writing conference, one such student broke down and told me, “I just had to take your course. When I look at all the ones on campus, it is the only one that seems to matter.”
I am not a miracle worker, but I do try to offer those students shelter and companionship within the world of academia. I know just how inhospitable such a world can be to the daughter I love most, the daughter who has taught me more about myself, life, and God than nearly any other human being on the planet–and yet to so many, she is broken, disabled, lacking. Together with twenty-four students each semester in this small, windowless classroom, we encounter just that kind of prejudice and exclusion toward people with disabilities, and I invite them to see otherwise.
What happens each semester is powerful.
Not only are there brave, open-minded students who have little contact with people with disabilities but come because they want to learn, but there are students with disabilities in my classroom who find that they are not alone and they are valued. There are students who leave impassioned to work with and learn more about people with disabilities even though they came in somewhat hesitant.
And at the end of the semester, when I have the students write narratives and Op-Eds about what they’ve learned about disability, I am overwhelmed. At the end of a semester of rigorous academic writing, they are invited to share their hearts, and I sit there with my coffee and my computer, humbled and honored to be invited into their beautiful, painful lives. So many students have written about how religious leaders have been so limited in their understanding of disability, hurting their family members, denying their humanity. So many have written about their own struggles with learning disabilities or mental illness that they’ve often kept to themselves on a campus that doesn’t have time for any inkling of weakness. Still others find the language of disability and difference a provocative opening to reconsider their experiences of race, class, gender, or body issues.
Every semester these disability narratives blow me away.
I learn so much from my students. Indeed, it was with that first class that I began to write about my own experiences–“I’m Not Sorry” was my disability narrative that I wrote alongside them, because I told them that I couldn’t ask them to be so brave if I wasn’t willing to try, too. These students have made me realize that the collision of my personal and professional life is both a gift and a responsibility. As I read over these narratives this past week, I realized that students leave my classroom better equipped to appreciate what is sacred in people who are different from them. And the hope that welled up in my heart when I read those narratives was distinct and surprising and so thrilling, because these students will resist attempts to belittle those who are different and those with disabilities. I know they will. These students will use their knowledge for good. It is because of these students that I can’t help but find purpose in my life and Lucia’s life; the opportunity to serve them and to grow alongside them is just too precious, too unique.
A few days ago, I snidely posted the following words to my social media account,
“Apparently there’s an inauguration today. Meanwhile, I have rearranged my office for maximum coziness while I get to read the exams where my students explore what they’ve learned about disability and difference over the course of our semester. How’s that for a protest, Mr. Trump? Three semesters (and counting) of students who will value and advocate for people with disabilities: we will make America great with or without you.”
So you see, this class, while it’s not overtly political is a distinct act of resistance in a world that is far too close-minded, cruel, and careless when it comes to the lives of people with disabilities. It’s resistance that comes from knowledge and hope and love. It is the resistance that I choose and that has chosen me. And I will carry on because just a few years removed from Lucia’s first birthday, I no longer question God at all. Rather all I can do is thank God for God’s incredible vision and a life so humble and yet, so grand.
We, like so many other parents across the globe, took our almost three year old to her first political protest on Saturday. And like so many, it was not necessarily the words of the speakers or the size of the protest that mattered so much, but the experience of standing alongside others in that damp, dreary weather and feeling the light and the warmth of knowing we’re not alone in the fight for the rights and dignity of all people in this country.
But when another pastor came up with his family to tell us that he had first started to take his now teenage son to protests when he was about Lucia’s age I have to admit that I was a little dismissive. Lucia would probably not be conscious of this protest anymore than ones she might attend in the future–in other words, I was emphatically aware of the cavernous difference between his able-bodied son and my disabled daughter, of his typical family and my not so typical one. Minutes later an elderly woman wanted to present Lucia was the paper crane she’d been fashioning while she stood beside us.
“Kids must be so bored at these things,” she whispered. “Perhaps she’d like something to play with.”
“Oh, well she can’t really use her arms,” I replied dryly.
“Well, can she see?” she persisted.
“No, not really,” I replied again, rather impatiently.
“But she can feel,” I finally acquiesced, flapping the tiny wings of the little bird against Lucia’s cheek to the woman’s contentment.
Even then, despite this woman’s resolute patience, I felt a pang of ambivalence. I perceived her persistence to be a reflection of her own desire to give her gift, whether or not it might be appropriate to give or whether Lucia could really receive of it. Despite the myriad of people who encircled us to tell us that they liked our “#disabled lives matter” sign and smile at our toddler with special needs, I realized how was possible it was to feel disconnected to the 7500 people with which we stood.
Nonetheless, not only the Trenton march, but the hundreds across the globe, especially the march on Washington, were an enormous success, and on Sunday as we stood in the church hallway, the other pastor and I chatted excitedly about what it feels like to be part of history. I remarked on how deeply moved I was by all the supportive responses to the piece I published on Thursday on this blog and Friday in the Huffington Post and how emotional it was when friends texted me photos of themselves marching in name for our daughter, Lucia, and disabled people across the country. But then again, almost before the words were out of my mouth, I realized I didn’t like how they sounded: I realized I was being dismissive again. I said something like how loved we felt, how Lucia had been so happy all day, but of course, she didn’t understand much of what really was going on, although it still meant something to us, to her parents.
“Oh, I don’t know,” my colleague replied graciously and carefully with something like, “I think love is love. I’m not sure we really know how people love, how it works, or how they receive it, but I think we can feel it. I think everyone can feel it.”
I swallowed, a big lump rising in my throat, and I thought about the pastor and his kids and the woman with the paper crane. I thought about the 7500 people marching in Trenton and millions of others across the globe. I thought about the words I’d written last week, and I realized that in the midst of calling for Lucia’s rights and for real love for her, I, too, have the ability to silence her.
It’s not up to me to decide what’s love or whether or how Lucia receives it. I realize that as much as I understand the reality of my daughter’s differences, I am not in a position to fathom what love really feels like to her, how she receives it, and how she experiences it. Those are my own limitations, and it’s not for me to constantly assert her differences when other people see common ground, or to presume that there’s a right or a wrong way to love her. I realize that perfect love isn’t about the most appropriate gift or words or gesture, but it’s about the desire to engage, to stand with, and to keep trying, even when the caverns seem massive and deep.
So with a humble heart and a contrite spirit, I realize just how tremendous and miraculous your outpouring of support has been, how deeply thankful I am to all of you not only because you’re fighting the good fight, you’ve got my girl’s back, and you’re doing everything you can to be a voice for justice, but because you remind me and are teaching me everyday about what love really means. You’re teaching me what it really means to let go and let Lucia love and be loved by you. And it’s not necessarily how I would have imagined it.
But thank God for that.
Thank God that despite our limitations, God somehow uses people to enable love to break through and remind us that God is love–that perfect love looks like undeniable kinship between so seemingly different families, paper cranes, spirited marches, letters to Congress, Lucia’s happiness, and so much in between.
Love is love and God is love and that’s why, despite our best (and flawed) human efforts, we’re never really alone.
P.s. The Betsy DeVos vote has been postponed until Jan. 31 so that gives you a week to call your Senator! See my previous post post-script (hehe) on why DeVos is bad on disability rights and how to call.
P.p.s. The Jeff Sessions vote could be as early as tomorrow! Call your Senator now to oppose and read this article to see why he’s bad for disability rights, too.
P.p.p.s. Letter writing is effective! Learn how here and please write to your Congress-people (you have one rep and three senators) asking them to protect state and federal Medicaid for families with disabilities!