So we’re at this camp. I’m wearing a t-shirt. I’m eating Gushers for lunch. In other words, I’ve found myself in a world apart from Manhattan. Where us greedy, selfish, ambitious able-bodied New Yorkers rarely think about people who can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t tweet, can’t swallow on their own.
Here in Pennsylvania I’ve received an education and a half about disabilities, about compassion, and about how much we’re given that we never even stop to think about.
“Just because I can’t speak doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say” – Michael’s wearing that t-shirt here at Joni’s week-long summer camp for families with disabilities (read Joni’s op-ed in the WSJ here). He can’t say anything to me but Michael definitely has something to say.
What he has to say is what Lady Gaga sings, “God makes no mistakes.” Indeed, these children with cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and traumatic brain injuries are not mistakes.
But it would be naive to think their lives don’t come with challenges. 80% of marriages end in divorce when a disabled child arrives. Siblings can quickly feel neglected when their disabled counterparts require so much time and attention. Parents grieve in knowing their child will never make it to high school, never make it down the aisle, never establish a Twitter account on which to mock the world.
Which is why we’re here this week. The volunteers here will give massages to the fathers, manicures to the mothers, lattes to the siblings, and outdoor activities (fishing, swimming) to our campers. We’re from all across the East coast – truck drivers, writers, lawyers, and Mennonites united in love for a community that’s often ignored and maligned.
Honestly, I’m scared to death.
Mostly because I’m surrounded by people who aren’t scared at all. Filled with inexplicable joy, these volunteers face what looks like an end and see instead a face. A personality. People who can’t speak but have plenty to say.
Before camp started, my mom & I drove to “Popcorn Buddha” for some snacks and got a lecture from some guy with a beard about how he makes “compassionate and contemplative popcorn.” Saving the world. One bag of white cheddar popcorn at a time: )
But his use of the term “compassion” got me thinking about the people here this week. Because there’s no performance review for compassion. No one gets a bonus for changing a disabled person’s diaper or engaging in a conversation with someone with Alzheimers.
But by being the literal hands & feet for the disabled this week I’m reminded that there is hope. A hope that remains the same whether we’re in a wheelchair, in the midst of struggle, or can’t speak.
Because we all have something to say and that something is this – God makes no mistakes. He’s created us in his image. And He loves us no matter how able bodied or disabled we may be.
Danielle taught me that.