Wednesday, April 3, 2013
I don't want to write about Robert Ethan Saylor.
I don't want to write about how he cried for his mother right before he died. I don't want to write about how the people whose actions left him dead are already back at work protecting others, or selling another ticket to a movie, or looking back at that night when a life was lost while they did nothing because someone qualified was taking care of it, or because they were afraid ...of him? I don't want to write about how confused, biased, and embarrassingly void of thought, real research, and understanding the media coverage concerning his death, and his life, has been. I don't want to write about the deafening silence from those who get a salary for representing Ethan and all people with Down syndrome (never again paid by my daughter), and then, too late, filling that empty air with even emptier words. I don't want to write about agendas or people who can't come together even in death, and who bicker, or try to one-up each other in some strange game of 'Whose cause is this?', or people who look at their own child with Down syndrome and still see other, or people who don't see a problem with a police department investigating its own employees. I don't want to write about people who hide behind the anonymity of the internet to spew their venom on 'retards', unsuspecting parents, and at anyone who reads the comment section in a newspaper (you are scum and I feel sorry for you). I refuse to write just because if I don't, the Department of Justice might just think that this horror, this violation of basic human rights, this dismissal of 6 million people has blown over, because there have been some vague promises of 'training' for people, who are supposed to be protecting my daughter as an individual, on how to see her and the other 6 million exactly like her even more differently, as strangers in their own homes, as beings beyond comprehension by the simple power of common sense.
I don't want to. Ethan isn't the cause of this. He isn't to blame. Neither is his Down syndrome. The blame belongs on the shoulders of those whose actions led to Ethan suffocating to death, and on a society in which a person's life is instantly deemed to be of lesser value, less worth saving, dismissible, or to have a potentially dangerous, out-of-control component, when his assumed IQ score is below 70.
Society needs fixing. Those of you who look at Ethan or my kid and don't see a person, an equal, need fixing. Adjustment. Change. You don't get to judge my daughter, I get to judge you.
Successful communication is not an effortless task. Communication takes practice, patience, compassion, and a willingness to listen and to try to understand. Communication takes years and years to learn and even then, in any given situation, at any given time, communication might fail. Even with the best of intentions on all sides.
But what if the intention, the willingness to understand, is not there? What if, instead of seeing and listening to a person trying to communicate with you, all you see is a stereotype?
He isn't small? He isn't cute? He's not smiling either? There's no belly laugh. He's not happy. He's not contained. Where is his keeper? Why is he by himself? Who let him out? He's reacting. He won't understand anything but force. Not fit to be out in public. Those can't be words. They don't understand. They don't think. Did he just say 'mom'? Nah. Couldn't have. Retard strength. Better watch out.
But what if you grew up having a friend who had Down syndrome? A student in your class? What if the lady who sells you your weekly lottery ticket and you regularly chat to had Down syndrome? What about a coworker, your boss? What if a kid in your daughter's soccer team had Down syndrome, in your son's ballet class, a guy in your aunt's book club, that lady who golfs with your sister-in-law? What if your favorite television show had a character with Down syndrome? How about the bartender at your favorite Friday-night watering hole? What if you had that Friday-night beer sitting by your friend who has Down syndrome, listening to his woman troubles or work stories, and telling him about this weird mole on your back, or how you think your car might not need all of those repairs the shop's quoting you for? What if we valued everyone, included everyone, and then let the chips fall where they may? What if we didn't assume anything, but looked at everyone as an individual?
What if people with Down syndrome really were included in every aspect of society? What if we all made an effort to understand, to communicate?
Simplistic? Maybe. A real choice? Yes.
Include. Interact. Accept. Embrace. All four are choices you can make. Today.