What’s the proper way to include someone? As difficult as the answer might be to find, we must continue to ask the question. Yesterday’s Speaking of Normal reminded me of a wrenching scene from the movie My Left Foot.
It’s a biographical movie about Christy Brown, set in Ireland around 1940. Severe Cerebral Palsy left Christy only able to operate his left foot with any sort of dexterity. He’s in a makeshift bed and he’s apparently hot, because he goes through an incredible ordeal to kick off a wool blanket. A few minutes go by before he finally succeeds, and his face lights up with a sense of accomplishment. His guardian enters the scene, makes a quick assumption about the situation, and throws the blanket back across Christy. It’s infuriating. Jeni can’t watch.
Our first, and perhaps most common, mistake in including our extraordinary friends is to assume we know what they want. This is especially important with someone who is non-verbal. It takes time to enter their world and understand what they need or want, but oftentimes we get in a hurry and just throw on a blanket. Jesus’ convicting words come to mind, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12) Before we offer a scorpion in good intention, let’s take the time to see what our friends really need.
Another Normal assumption, is to think an extraordinary person wants or needs a place of their own. We visited a church recently, and a well-meaning, genuine individual talked with our family and told us all about their Special Needs Room. This person didn’t introduce himself to Caedmon, didn’t ask his name, and didn’t mean to exclude, but he did. He saw the wheelchair, and he assumed he knew what Caedmon would want. The last thing Caedmon would want is to be relegated to a separate room, void of friends, and left feeling like Jacob did from the Speaking of Normal quote. I think it’s great they’ve had the thoughtfulness to create the room, but we must not assume a person will want to occupy it. Separate isn’t equal, especially for a child.
What I propose requires time, effort, creativity, resourcefulness, willingness, and patience. (Not to mention money.) But I can’t help but think back on the Golden Rule; you remember, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…” (Matthew 7:12). We forget this sometimes. When we’re asking our inclusion questions, we should let this be our guide. If I were in that situation, how might I feel? What would I want? What would I need? We should allow ourselves the time to imagine what our extraordinary friends are experiencing, maybe even asking them directly.
We just need to be thoughtful. If we’re thoughtless, are we really being loving? If we’re projecting ourselves and our assumptions onto the situation, are we really understanding? Inclusion doesn’t always require an expensive, time intensive process; more often than not it’s simply looking someone in the eyes and saying hello. Inclusion demands that we recognize a disability but don’t define by the disability.
Later in My Left Foot, Christy’s brothers and friends demonstrate thoughtful inclusion. All the guys are off to play soccer in the street, and leaving Christy at home isn’t an option. They race to their cobblestone pitch, place Christy in the goal, and share the Beautiful Game together. Christy made an excellent goal keeper, and even had a wicked shot on their free kicks. The boys found a thoughtful way to include their brother. Beautiful.