I wanted to make today’s blog something that I hope will inspire and strike a chord. Of course, that involved some brainstorming. I thought about writing about family, as my parents visited me this past weekend and I feel incredibly blessed by the close bond I share with them. However, I think some events of the last week have led me in a different direction. Please bear with me if I ramble or go on, and on, and on.
My boyfriend recently had a phone interview for a position with Best Buddies International, which is a non-profit organization that advocates for those with disabilities. If he gets the job, he will travel to cities all over the United States to attend events that bring about awareness and promote friendship with those people that have disabilities. While these opportunities are both intimidating and exciting, it is his passion for this cause that I want to highlight more than anything else, because it has rubbed off on me.
There are two things that will, without a doubt, bring tears to my eyes every time. The first of these is seeing those in our community that are homeless and in need of basic necessities. I always keep little snacks and water in my car so that I can help in any small way. The second thing is when I see the pure joy in the face of those with any range of disabilities. So often we think that they face so many challenges and we feel sorry for them, but they seem more genuinely kind and happy than anyone I have ever met. This brings me such joy, myself, and makes me reevaluate the way I think and live. Meeting my boyfriend showed me this truth more than ever.
One of Joel’s younger sisters has Down Syndrome, and I have never seen her without a smile on, and she is always the life of the party, winning dance contests at her high school and being the most popular girl at church. Recently she and her mom were at the grocery store when she pointed at a magazine with some celebrity on the cover and said, “That’s my mom!” My boyfriend’s mom said, “I’m your mom, silly,” only to be told, “I mean my BIOLOGICAL mom.” She asked, “Wait, what? Well what about me?” Her daughter responded with an exasperated answer, saying “Sorry, Mom. She’s hot like me!” This story created waves of laughter to everyone who heard it, including me. But that’s my boyfriend’s sister- a jokester and the ultimate joy.
Sadly, sometimes people neglect to see this. While on the bus one day, she heard a fellow student talking negatively about her favorite teacher. When she stood up for him and said “Hey, he’s the best! Stop that,” the student responded by saying “Shut up, ya retard!” Luckily my boyfriend has many siblings, and his other sister was on the bus that day to stand up for her and report the vile student. Still, this is not an isolated incident. An adult woman in her forties told my boyfriend’s mom to “get that retard out of the way” at the grocery store. This makes me sick! Mary Kate is the most well behaved, kindest, funniest child you will ever meet, and you can count yourself lucky if you do. We all consider her a gift from God, and I wish our culture would change to reflect this.
Still, there is hope. Just as we have changed our world before, and demanded equal rights for women and those of a different race, I know we can demand the same for those with disabilities. They may process things slower or differently than we do, but that makes them unique, not ignorant. I think they know more about perseverance and true happiness than we do! They are faced with challenges, and one student even said that something as simple as making a friend can be the most difficult thing in the world for her. That is what Best Buddies tries to change, all over the world, in over 50 different countries. They seek to provide friendship, opportunity, and confidence. They seek to change our culture and put their organization out of business, because that means there is no longer a need to advocate for equality for those with disabilities. They are currently in a campaign to end the use of “the R-word,” and I challenge you all to strive for the same. In the meantime, I hope that my boyfriend can be part of this organization and change the social climate of today, as I truly believe that this issue deserves the attention that so many before have gotten. I was a Buddy in high school to a student with special needs, and it meant everything to me. Now, I know no one more passionate or fitting to try and change the world for those with disabilities than Joel, and I pray he gets this chance to. I promise that it would change the world for all of us, to be able to see everyone as the true gift and teacher that they can be, as my eyes have been opened to do.