From a discussion on the Mariposa Online listserv... P&H refers to the prayer and healing conference I attended in February.
On MOL, Lupita wrote:
Perhaps if we sat down and talked to find out what is the real problem behind "being different" or "having a disability," then we could see that in fact we are not as different as we think and we deal with issues in common (feelings of insecurity, lack of self-esteem; issues with autonomy and the need to ask for help; being treated as if we had no intellectual abilities; etc.). Perhaps if we sat down and shared, we would find what the real issues are and we could deal with them and help each other overcome ... Perhaps if we did that, we could start seeing less with our eyes (depending less on our sight) and more with the heart. Perhaps then we could be healed.
Wow! This is just profound to me. I was thinking yesterday about why it was easier for me at P&H to let that guard down than it usually is. Certainly there are people without visible disabilities who make me feel very safe in being vulnerable, and there are some people with disabilities who make me feel very uncomfortable and "uptight," that I have to do things "just right," etc. Some of the people who make me most uncomfortable in this regard are other blind people--people who are locked into the "must be absolutely normal" frame of mind.
Several years ago, a group of educators put together a document detailing areas of educational need affecting blind children. The opening paragraph reads:
Some years ago, a reporter asked a prominent blind woman, "What is it that blind people would want from society?" The woman replied, "The opportunity to be equal and the right to be different."
I've always loved this quotation, and I think it sums up my feelings very well and the reasons why I was comfortable at P&H. I had that opportunity and right, and often one or the other of those is lacking in most situations. In fact, often I am required to be "the same" or even better before I can be "equal."
For instance, when applying for a job, I not only have to prove that I have the standard qualifications, but generally I also have to prove that I'm not going to be a hindrance or a burden. In the case of working with children, I must prove somehow that I can care for them safely--and many people believe so fervently that this requires sight that none of the methods I demonstrate and none of my glowing references matter when it comes to employing me. I am a liability, considered incapable of performing basic tasks or being truly aware of my surroundings or what a child is doing. The issue in these situations is not about my true limitations or how I overcome them. It is about someone else's perceptions of the effectiveness of techniques they don't realize they use. Mothers around the world use their ears to keep track of what a child is doing while their backs are turned or while they are in the other room; but they have the security of knowing they can turn and look, so they don't learn to trust their ears and they make a habit of dividing their attention in ways I don't. But because an employer cannot fathom doing things "my way," my way is dismissed as ineffective. This is "why blindness sucks" as Ken puts it.
I went off on a bit of a tangent, but I think it's not too irrelevant. In these job interviews, both my opportunity to be equal and my right to be different are stripped from me. At P&H, neither was. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that we were all looking for something like this, and we gave it to each other. In some ways, I find it easier at times to be around people with other disabilities than I do to be around other blind people. Often blind people don't allow differences from one blind person to another. If person A labels spices, person B should also label them. If person B prefers to identify her spices by opening and smelling them, this is assumed to be a sign that person B is in denial or rebellion and not that she just has a personal preference for identifying things this way. This has caused huge problems in relationships for me in the past, both roommate and potential marriage partner. (Is it any wonder that no marriage happened in that case?)
I'm reading a book that talks about the importance of having friends who "cover your shame." I'm trying to think of a good example of this working in my own life. I'm having trouble thinking of a good example. The one in the book was really touching. I'm going to paste it in here because it's just powerful.
As a child, Karen went without shoes most of the time. When school was in session, she was often ashamed of the hand-me-down shoes her parents made her wear. Many times she hid her feet under the desk in hopes the other children wouldn't notice how outdated and marred her shoes were. Sometimes she succeeded. Other times her peers delighted themselves by teasing her about her shoes. Karen never told anyone what happened. It seemed ridiculous, especially because such a little thing was a powerful source of shame for her.
Karen had forgotten all about it until a moment came when the shame of her childhood was rekindled. Both Karen and her husband lost their jobs suddenly and unexpectedly when she was five months pregnant. She decided not to try to find a new job until after the baby came. Her husband was unable to find employment for several months, although he sought work diligently. Eventually, their finances dwindled to almost nothing, the baby was nearly due, and Karen was sinking into depression.
The night before Easter, Karen was trying to find something decent to wear to church but wasn't having much luck because her body and feet had swollen out of proportion to her clothes and shoes. The only nice dress that fit had a stain on it, and the only shoes she could squeeze her feet into were badly worn. Karen's friend Sue was visiting that evening. When Karen came out of the bedroom to see if her outfit was passable, she was in no mood to handle criticism. Not realizing how badly Karen was feeling about herself, her husband blurted out, "You can't wear those shoes. They look awful." Karen burst into tears. The pain of her childhood shame came rushing in on her. She relived the feelings of shame she had known when, as a child, she'd tried to hide her feet under the school desk so no one would notice the symbol of her poverty.
After a few moments, Karen gained her composure. Sue asked if she would mind coming with her on some errands and Karen agreed. The first stop Sue made was at a shoe store where she sat her friend down and helped her select a pair of new shoes that fit. At church the next day Karen didn't have to hide her feet because she had a friend who knew how to lessen her shame without making her feel like a charity case.
A person who lessens your shame is someone who
- sees beyond the circumstances and garb of the moment to the beauty within you.
- understands the pain and humiliation associated with your shame and takes action to relieve the pain and protect you from humiliation.
- is in a position to help you cover or replace some of the things that symbolize your shame, the things that cause you to lower your head, fear exposure, and feel ashamed of yourself.
- loves you enough to help you see yourself in a new light.
I'm thinking of the teacher who used to walk me to my next class in seventh grade. She never even commented about it. She just did it--and she covered not only my shame about being unable (due to lack of travel skills) to move through the crowded halls but also (and much more importantly) my shame about my lack of positive peer relationships and my need to "connect" with someone.