Thursday, July 24, 2008

Labels

It bugs me how quickly we label people based on appearance, stereotypes, and our own prejudices. Sometimes I think the pursuit of perfect doesn't allow us to appreciate the imperfect, which is perhaps more interesting and worthy of attention than perfection. Disability, for example, is a horrible word. It labels people for what they can't do instead of what they can. Isn't it what makes us different that should be treasured? I could name hundreds of ways that my children are alike, but the things I love most about them are what makes them unique.

Growing up in a small town can allow you to find the special in unique people. A visit to the pharmacy meant an encounter with an elderly man who always wore a pair of overalls. He'd ask everyone he met if they had any change. Regardless of their response, he'd pull out a huge wad of bills from his overalls and start counting them. It makes me smile to remember the huge grin on his face, like a child opening a present on Christmas morning.

We also lay claim to the state's top Special Olympics swimmer. Penny's dad and mine were members of a local service club and we attending pool parties at their house. They had a pool and Penny could swim better than any two-legged person I'd ever seen! She has the gold medals to prove it too!! She's now in her 40s, but I think she could still swim circles around the rest of us.

She also has a cool sense of humor. Her family attends a tiny country church where everybody has known everybody else for ages. Each week the congregation is asked if their are any names to add to the prayer list. One week, Penny's hand shot up. She stood and gave her request: "Michael Jackson" (the singer - her favorite). Her father was mortified and pulled her back down quickly with a sharp "Penny, if you ever embarrass me like that again..." Her brother pointed out that if anybody needs some prayer, it might just be Michael Jackson! When I see Penny, I don't think about what she can't do. I anticipate what funny story she will share with me, how her family takes great pride in what she can do and the joy she is to their family.

Rob and I watched a beautiful documentary called The Teachings of Jon. The subject of the film was born with Down's Syndrome. He can use some sign language, but otherwise doesn't communicate well. He spends his day's folding paper into shapes and trying to ring pots on his mother's pot rack in their kitchen. He swims, he loves Furbies and remote controls, he has a thing for rolling pins. His sister asked a therapist about what went on in Jon's mind. Could he learn? What was going on inside his head? She was told: "It's not about what Jon can be taught, but about what he can teach you."

Labels are more about the person doing the labelling than the person to whom the label is attached. I hope my children look at everyone they meet and see the potential, no matter how others might perceive the same person. I hope they look beyond the rush to judge the can't and see the can. I hope I can.

5 comments:

Stomper Girl said...

Beautifully said, Melinda.

bluemountainsmary said...

Thank you Melinda - this is so heartfelt and I hope I can do the same for my kids too.

And me!

Minnesota Matron said...

Wonderful post! This puts one of my neighbors into perspective. Thank you!

twolimeleaves said...

"It's not about what Jon can be taught, but about what he can teach you."


Ain't THAT the truth!!
Great post, M.

M said...

Right on Melinda!

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