There are some topics that can be discussed once or twice, then there are some topics that can’t be discussed enough.
We live in a wonderful world that G-d created and gave to us 5778 years ago. In each generation the world is filled with lots of people with lots of different colors and opinions. There have always been beautiful, successful, rich and fortunate people around and there have always been the opposite as well. We might think that it is we who make ourselves great. But we must always remember that it is Hashem who hands out the “acting” positions and knows exactly who must play which roll. Roll playing in each generation in itself is a very fascinating topic which can be discussed at a later time. My point right now is that we do not choose if we are going to be rich or poor, pretty or not, disabled or healthy.
Thank goodness the percentage of healthy people in the world is greater than that of the disabled and weak. The percentage of healthy children who attend school is still greater than that of those who attend school for the handicapped and disabled. The awareness in the world of the disabled has grown over the years, but obviously not enough. Sad to say if a person doesn’t have a disabled member in the family or doesn’t work in a place for people with special needs, their awareness of the complexities of a day in the life of a special needs person is not very high.
As a mother to a severely disabled son, I live this reality daily. I try to open up the eyes of the people around me to have more sensitivity and awareness regarding all people who were not blessed with optimal health. I try to remind people who are in an awful rush and might have no patience, to be happy that they can rush somewhere and not to take up a handicapped spot in the parking lot. I would also hope that there is a ramp for a wheel chair in an office building or in a tasty restaurant. The list is long. And my goal is always to try to widen the outlook of whomever I come in contact with. But there are times when a specific incident causes me to stop and put a spotlight onto the situation in order that it will echo in the minds and hearts of others who might not be aware that this kind of behavior must be addressed.
This past Shabbat I went to shul with my special needs son. His wheel chair is big and takes up a lot of room. He’s 13 now and it’s hard not to notice him when we arrive at shul Friday night. He also has a few machines attached to his chair, and sometimes they go off and make a loud noise. So that even if someone missed our grand entrance the machines will surely give his identity away. We attend the same shul every week so that most of the frequent congregants are used to us. This past Friday night as I was leaving shul a lady in a wheel chair herself approached us and wanted to tell me something. After the usual Shabbat greetings, she said to me, “I have a six and a half year old son. He is used to me, his mother, in a wheel chair since the time he was born. But he doesn’t want to come to shul Friday nights because he is afraid of your son and all his machines, and therefore he stays home each week with his elderly grandparents.” I didn’t know what to say. I felt bad for the boy who felt so frightened by my son, and I also felt sorry for the parents who didn’t know what to do and yet wanted to find a solution together with me. I took a deep breath, thanked them for sharing their worries and asked them if they would like to meet in the park the following day and asked them to please bring their son along. They were delighted at the invitation and above all at a chance that perhaps a solution to their son’s fear could be found.
The next afternoon we all met at the park. My son and I, and this couple and their son. At my first glance, I could see the panic in this sweet little boy’s face. They were sitting across from me at the park so I gently waved to them and I picked up my son’s hand as well and moved it as a gesture of hello. They responded immediately, so I invited them over to sit next to us. This of course took a lot of courage from this little boy. But holding his mother’s hand as his father pushed his mother’s wheel chair toward ours, he was able to meet the challenge.
As they came closer, I told him how happy my son and I were to see him and how glad we would be to become his friends. I could see that he was still quite nervous so I asked him if he would like to shake hands with my son. And sure enough he reached out and touched my Eliyahu’s hand. At that moment I could almost hear this little boy’s heart sing with triumph. Despite his great dismay and fear at meeting my son, he took the first step and came to meet us. With the help of his loving and special needs parents and my welcoming him in a warm and loving approach, that great barrier of fear and escape lessoned and was replaced with a small opening of light and growth. Those natural feelings of fear that weren’t dealt with might have simply stayed there for life, not only with my son, but with any other fears he might have found along the road of life. This barrier was lifted and was replaced with a different approach of acceptance of others.
Different people and various events in life at first might seem very difficult to overcome, and even a bit scary. By opening the door to seeing beyond what you know and are familiar with, we learn to accept. And the lesson of accepting and teaching, even a small boy of 6 and a half, the importance of reaching out to others even if they are different than us, is the most important message for children and adults.
Don’t shut out others just because they are disabled or different from us, be it sick, weak or unsuccessful. At first you or your child might be startled by special needs people. Encourage in a loving way, acceptance of the special needs individual. More than anything you will be giving your children the greatest lesson from which they will grow and become better adults and parents. And in this way the world will always be growing in a positive direction of accepting one another despite the differences, and we will have a better environment in which to bring up a better and more united generation.