I’d like to share something that moved me this week, as it connects perfectly with what this site is all about. It’s Aimee Mullins’ TED talk on, “The opportunity of adversity.” I’ve watched it twice, and her strength just shines through. She knows who she is, and she is beautiful.
Aimee Mullins was born without shinbones. Rather than seeing this as something to be ‘overcome’, the adult Aimee sees her disability as something that shaped her character and gave her strength. She also talks about how one person’s affirmation of her strength made a significant impact on her self-perception as a child. She emphasizes the power of words, and their potency for encouragement or discouragement. As Aimee says, “It’s not just about the words. It’s what we believe about people when we name them with these words….Our language affects our thinking.”
I think it’s significant to note that many people I know in L’Arche (most of whom are over 50) grew up in a world that, for the most part, was far less accepting of physical and intellectual disability. That world used language that excluded and demeaned. That world called people with disabilities “retarded” and “defective” and “stupid”.
Realizing this made my heart break anew. It also gave me greater compassion for my friends. I thought: what if, over the course of my life, I constantly received the message that I was inadequate, sub-par, and unworthy? What if I had been sent away from my home, exiled from my family and put in an institution? What if I, like my friend Vincent*, was made to be a pall-bearer for my friends who were neglected and died at the institution? What kind of hope, what kind of faith would I have then?
I’m tempted to say, no kind of hope or faith at all. But I know that’s not true, because I know better. I know Vincent, and there is a spirit within him that cannot be crushed. Vincent is a gentle, quiet man. He is the ‘grandfather’ of our community. He has suffered much. Yet he has been known to spark his fingers at long traffic lights, as though the flickering of his hands could change the red to green sooner. He still celebrates the magic in his hands.
So here’s to Vincent, and Aimee, and others like them. On their behalf, I’m honored to share with you: “The opportunity of adversity.”
*Names have been changed.