Monday, August 16, 2010

Equality... or something like that... 
I have always been kind of mystified by the idea of equality. The ideas of equality for all people have been foundations in which this very country was founded on. Equal rights and equal opportunities have always rang as anthems for justice. These choruses, however, have began to appear to me as superficial. In a world where we celebrate and embrace diversity (as we should, imho), how can we accept the idea that we all get/need the same thing even though our needs are as diverse as our identities?
Let’s talk about leveling the playing field. I have spent my last six summers working at camps for individuals with disabilities. I have had many heart wrenching conversations and have lamented injustice alongside people with whom I have come to call friends. One particular theme during these conversations has emerged numerous times. The theme is best summed up in a comment made by a camper when referring to the time they got to spend in a swimming pool: “Swimming makes my CP (cerebral palsy) go away.” At first, these seems to be an innocent and sentimental comment (and there are parts in which I will comment on later that serve a symbols of hope and promise to me). If we choose to dissect the statement, however, I cannot help but see the sad truth in which this young person exposes.  
I am going to speak boldly, but I am also speaking humbly. I would not be characterized in society’s standards as a person with a disability. I know that I have my limitations when I speak on this subject. But I speak because I care, so if I come off as ignorant or untactful, please understand that it is my exploration and that I am still in (and probably will forever be) in the process of learning. 
 My heart breaks when I hear a young child proclaim that she knows that a part of her is so “wrong” that it would it be better if it was just taken away. I long for the day when the child with CP, Down’s Syndrome, ASD, ADHD, etc, etc. will not feel that there is fundamentally something wrong with him or herself. I lament the injustice of disablement and disempowerment that has been created by society. As a society, we have created inaccessible buildings, schools, and churchs (to name a few), but most importantly have breeded generations of people with inaccessible closed hearts. Our hearts have created “the other.” We have diminished a part of our own humanity by not respecting and celebrating those different than ourselves. We embrace those who are like us, and shun those who are not.
(Now, I am cognizant that on a biological level there are actual physical and mental defects that accompany disability. I understand and acknowledge that, to a certain extent, disability is not completely a social construct. My argument, solely, is that we further disabled those with disabilities. We have created disabilities by pitying, being non-accomadating and denying the humanity in those around us. 
The camps that I have worked at have begun to try to level the playing field. Swimming, rock climbing, tubing, conversations, and meal times are all areas that are often subject to discrimination and hate. At camp, the abled and the differently abled play alongside each other. Physical barriers are destroyed and mental barriers are challenged. Pity and charity become nonexistent as reciprocal relationships are formed. On the flip side, the camper’s quote (“Swimming makes my CP go away”) becomes a phrase of hope, because the young person is no longer “disabled” by their disability. Their disability is part of them-not defect, just a part of who they are. The walls of us vs. them no longer exist. Camp, in many ways, becomes to me a place closer to heaven than any other place on earth.
So equality…. Maybe it’s maybe more about leveling the playing field than anything else. Maybe it’s about accepting people for every single aspect of them. Maybe it’s focusing on gifts and not on defects. Maybe it’s about saying that the way that you were created is beautiful and that there is nothing that should be changed. Maybe it’s about breaking down the physical, mental, and emotional barriers that have been created and uniting under the banner of Humanity. Maybe it’s about empowerment of all people, not just the privelaged. 
I long for the day when the fact that we are all beautifully and wonderfully made rings true in the hearts and minds of all human begins. Because, only then, will we be able to truly to celebrate the true beauty of God’s wonderful Creation. 
Do I think that this can completely come true during our time on this earth? No. Humanity is fallen. True harmony and peace will never exist on this earth. But I think that we can sure try a hell of a lot harder than we do (excuse my french). Camps serve as a beacon of light as an example of how things could be, should be. Perfect? Hardly. But trying. 

 So let's try. We all deserve it. 

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