A Tribute to Families
Matthew, who has a mental handicap, has five brothers and sisters. The other children get quite a few treats because of him through gestures of kindness offered by local organizations. A free afternoon at the fair for example, or tickets to the circus “ For the handicapped and their families” there is never any shortage of volunteers to ride shotgun with him for these occasions. After one such enjoyable outing, Sophie asked in conspiratorial tones, “ What happens if they ever find out that Matty isn’t really handicapped?”
Matty isn’t really handicapped. Sophie knows that because Matty is her brother. He’s not a handicapped child, he’s Matthew – the boy she grew up with, the one who talks the way he talks and the one who looks the way he looks not because he has a mental handicap but because he is Matthew.
All of us need a place where we can be ourselves: not a label or a type or an example of anything – just ourselves. For most of us, that place is the family. The family is where we are known, where our accomplishments are remembered, our faults are excused, where we are allowed to slam a door occasionally or to ask for a cuddle when we want one. It’s where we first arrive on this earth and, all things being equal, it’s the place where we feel most at home, most comfortable, most accepted as we are.
For people with disabilities, the family may be the only such place. Being disabled is hard. In addition to all the extra effort every thing takes to accomplish, people with disabilities have to put up with the little boxes society likes to put them in. Some societies call them damaged. Some call them holy. Still others say that all of them are happy or loving or musical. Whether ignorant or well intentioned or just plain silly, a label is still a label, a stereotype is still a stereotype. It’s exhausting to even think about imagining trying to climb out of those boxes everyday!
In their families, people with disabilities can relax. Moy Moy is Moy Moy, the girl who will eat anything as long as it’s cheese. Rahul is Rahul, the boy who cannot speak or walk but who knows that cartoon time is at 5 P M and his brother had better put the TV on for him. Michael is Michael, the 50 year old man who, having been told by his parents not to bother the neighbours, knocks hesitantly on the doors anyway, armed with elaborate and transparent excuses for his fifth visit of the day. They are all their own unique selves – and their families know it.
The Karuna Vihar Calendar 2003 is a tribute to families- to the people who live with disability every day – in their children or their parent or their siblings or themselves – and who understand that it is just one part of their multi layered lives, and not the defining part either. It is a tribute to resilience and courage and fortitude and grace – and a modest proposal to the rest of the world: stop trying to find a label that works (mentally challenged, differently abled, specially gifted!) and just see people as people. It works in the family. It will work in the world.