The person standing outside the entrance to the grocery store this morning had a table set up with a big sign that read, "HELP MENTALLY DISABLED PEOPLE." I walked right past, my heart beating curiously fast, and I did my shopping, all the while thinking of what I would say on my way out of the store when the guy hit me up (they always seem to wait until you're leaving the store as opposed to entering the store). Would I say my usual, "Sorry, not today"? Or maybe I would say "I'm helping a mentally disabled person at home." Or maybe I would actually strike up a conversation with the guy and tell him about my son who has Down syndrome. Or maybe not. And I wondered how the girl who has Ds who works in that grocery store felt about that guy and his sign.
I walked out of the store, still not sure what I was going to say, but the guy never approached me, so I got in my truck and drove home.
But here's the thing: seeing that guy and his sign, "HELP MENTALLY DISABLED PEOPLE," just left me feeling sad and deflated. My son is one of those people, apparently. Sometimes it's still hard to wrap my head around that one. He's a member of a class of people of which I am not a member, and on some level it makes me fear some separation between me and Finn. I have an understanding of what it's like to be "typical" in this world. I have no idea what it's like to be disabled in this world. Sometimes I still feel completely unprepared and unqualified to raise a child who has special needs. How will I prepare him for life when I have no idea what it's like to be someone like him?
He's a member of a class of people for whom other people stand outside of grocery stores asking for money. He's one of the people on whose behalf ARC leaves those bags on our front door asking for donations of clothing. How can that be? It all leaves me feeling like for all the progress society has made, the world still sees Finn and people like Finn as charity cases, less-than human beings, people who are unfortunate and require the benevolence of strangers and organizations, because lord knows they can't make their own way through life. I know the needs are really there - I know the money goes to fund programs and such. And that's good!
But sometimes it still hits me in a tender spot.