I was mid-session at work today when a group arrived from a local disability support agency. We smiled, rearranged the tables and chairs and included them in the activities.
This has happened to me a few times now, unexpected attendance by people with disabilities. It's confronting. Not the way they look, talk and eat, (I can deal with that) but they way they challenge my assumptions and beliefs. They catch me on the hop, and flush out thoughts and feelings I would not have credited with being tucked inside me. I'm not quite as accepting and non-judgemental as I like to think I am. I feel uncomfortable, not with them, but with me.
As an aside, I also felt this way when Frank and I watched 'The boy in the striped pyjamas'. It was a sad, upsetting story, but I was more disturbed by what came to the surface in my thoughts: "Not him, he's not one of them, he's not a Jew, he shouldn't be dying." Hello... like any of them should have been!
We're such a society of beautiful people. Perfect hair. Perfect makeup. Perfect teeth, clothes, shoes, handbags. In all our fake perfection, we don't know how to deal with the less than perfect, the not-so-beautiful. We hide them away, pretend they aren't there, stare or look repulsed.
The more I continue to work in my job at the neighbourhood houses, the more I rub shoulders with society's 'misfits'. The people the population at large would rather not have to deal with. I was talking to someone the other day who said the best thing the government did was build that string of low socio economic suburbs along the ridge. "They're out of the way," she said. "They can't bother us. We can all live our lives without disturbing each other." Of course I told her just what I thought of that! But don't we do it all the time? Push out the people who are different from ourselves?
There lurks in me a desire to be with people similar to myself. Maybe I think they have more value, maybe it's just human nature to stick with what we know. Bumping up against people who are different to myself forces me to see past our superficial differences and value them. And how couldn't I? They may not be perfect, they may not be 'beautiful', but they count. They're people. Many of them are truly beautiful, living with circumstances and limitations I would struggle to bear, often with a smile on their face.
I'm rambling and it's late and I can't think how to finish this properly right now. I'll just say "People matter" no matter what their ability, style, address, race, size. Whatever unpleasant feelings surface when I'm unexpectedly confronted by those who are very different from myself, those people still matter. And that's that.