Monday, June 12, 2017

Do You See Past?

Jean, Michael and Jesse

Seeing past what's on the surface of people, places and things can be challenging to human beings.  All too often we let fear dictate our behaviour, resulting in judgments, based on preconceived notions, misconceptions, and misunderstandings.

Growing up I was exposed at an early age to disease and mental illness. Not that I thought this was a so called "normal" life, but I came to accept and understand, that it simply was and is life, for a good majority of people, and my family was no exception.

 I also became familiar with what seemed to be all those "D" words that connote negative and hurtful descriptions and an attitude of what is often seen by society as being less than, and different. However I was never made to feel this way within my own immediate family, and I'm so grateful for that.

When I was a Youth Care Worker, it was once pointed out to me that many of the words historically used to describe youth began with the letter d, like delinquent, dysfunctional, disordered, disturbed, disabled, detached, damaged, dangerous, deceitful,, deficit, delayed, dependent, depressed, destructive, deviant, devious, disgraceful, disobedient, all words that can be disheartening and discouraging to those needing to be lifted up with hope and dignity.

Similar words can be heard in reference to the mentally ill, and physically or mentally challenged in one way of another, including those marginalized within society. Fortunately some of these words are not so frequently used, and more politically correct language is heard, but there certainly are exceptions and words are still used as hurtful weapons.

I believe there still exists an attitudinal hangover that remains to this day, toward any one not seeming to belong to the norm and those not in the socio-economic mainstream. Every one needs to feel that their dignity is left completely intact when interacting with others.

Language is powerful and it reflects our bias or our kindness, and/or our cruelty toward one another. Ideally, the words we use are a reflection of our values, and hopefully our higher ideals for good and positive change and treating our fellow human beings with dignity.

Any opportunity one takes to exercise their individual power, dispelling fear and judgment, based on the aforementioned notions and misunderstandings, surrounding any kind of perceived difference, I believe can enable the knowledge, that we all have much more in common than difference.

There's an absolute need to see past the superficial trappings, and to see the individual for who they are, not for what we perceive them to be, based upon initial impressions and judgments. When we are accepted, loved and celebrated for who we are our so-called disability becomes our ability.

Recently I spoke with one such caring and very creative couple in our small coastal community, Jean and Michael Booth who have used their individual power to make real change in breaking down barriers and lifting up others with dignity through a charity they happened upon while Michael was in an airport in the US. He'd picked up money that a women had dropped and immediately returned it to her. This is what lead to him and Jean meeting Mark Richard who started the Hope Haven International in Guatemala, which provided 90,000 free wheelchairs in 106 countries in the first 16 years of outreach. Hope Haven has be operating now for over twenty years,  and hs delivered 130,000 wheelchairs to giving dignity and hope to children and adults in over 107 countries.

Prior to interviewing both Michael and Jean, I'd had a phone conversation with Jean about writing this article and we spoke about her experience as a teacher. She told me what she attributed to her changed perception toward seeing past the disability of another and seeing the individual for who they are. She said it was after having worked with a young boy in her classroom. He'd been born with no legs or arms due to his mother being prescribed Thalidomide during pregnancy.
Jean said this young boy had been fitted with prostheses and he was able to join his class on a ski trip after he'd had specially adjusted equipment made for him, and he was able to ski with the rest of his peers and to feel the great freedom of mobility. The way Jean described this transformational experience for this young boy was evident in the joyful expression on her face, and the happiness in her voice.

What made this story poignant is that Jean and Michael saw to it that a young boy in our small close-knit coastal community, thanks to their friend Mark Richard and Hope Haven International, had a custom built therapeutic bicycle adapted just for him. He is the only boy in Canada who has such a therapeutic bike and any one who is in need will not be turned away regardless of where you live as Hope Haven International is a world wide charity.
Busy in the fitting room

Jesse is a much loved and great kid, full of personality, life, character, with a keen sense of humour. I had the pleasure of teaching him art in our local school with his peers last year.
A video was made when Jesse received his bike and of him riding it, that was absolutely priceless to see  the joy and happiness on his face and especially the happiness and joy it's brought his whole family.

 “Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.”
― Jean Vanier, Becoming Human


Judith Joseph said...

Great essay, Catherine. I love your point about the "d" words, and how dispiriting they are.

Unknown said...

Thank you Judith <3 Yes I sure dislike many of those dang "D" words!