September 4th, 2015
What is it, exactly, that we want?
Today some people idealize people with disabilities when they find autonomy, live alone, look at television and drink beer. Autonomy can be good to a certain extent, but in our community a number of people who wanted to live alone fell into loneliness and alcoholism. The problem was not that they lived alone but that they lacked a network of friends. It always comes back to belonging.
Jean Vanier in “Living Gently in a Violent World,” p. 37
I think it is imperative that we get really clear about what we are promoting and prompting others to achieve and/or desire. Is there room for belonging when we perseverate on independence? What is it that is so crucial to the concept of independence that we spend countless hours and much energy in ensuring someone reaches their full measure of independence? Is our personhood measured by how little we need someone else?
The ideology of independence isn’t something that we preach only to those with some label or other, but rather a myth we have been telling ourselves, too! Looking to myself (really, the only thing I can speak to with any authority), I had been living as if this myth was true. I was out to make a life for myself – work hard, earn my own way, never take hand-outs. Prove my worth by standing alone. In fact, spent my daughter’s first few years attempting to minimize the frequency/level of support we received from others. My smug satisfaction was matched only by our isolation within the very community we existed.
Then I started learning more about interdependence and belonging. I need only look to the faces of others who take joy in spending time with my sweet daughter (my father’s face could light the night sky when he and she are together) to learn that I wasn’t the only one missing out by not allowing others to support us. In allowing someone to offer up their time and talents, I am offering an opportunity for peer-ship. For us to be on the same level. If I expect to help another, I must first be willing to ask them for help. We must be peers. We must be human.
Back to the opening quote and my opening caution: we need to be clear about our intentions! Do I desire some ‘Johnny’ to move out of his family home because that is what it means to live a full and contributing life as an adult? Or do I desire Johnny to move out of his family home because he has always dreamed of living with his best friend Sam. Has dreamed of a place to call his own? Do I desire it because he has visions of hosting friends and loved ones in his own domain? I desire for Johnny to be surrounded by grace and love – given as much support as needed. Be it daily/weekly check ins, monthly budget support, in-home culinary classes, or some other, unique to Johnny, support offered by those who wish to see him succeed in his dreams, whatever they are.
As for some ‘Sally’, who could think of no better place to reside than with her loving parents/aunts/cousins twice removed/supportive roommate, I simply wish her all the same. All the support she could ask for in acheiving her dreams. And those dreams don’t have to have anything to do with where she lives and with whom she chooses to live. Let her dreams be of ballet classes, a volunteer position at her favorite bakery, post-secondary education, or being the best kitten-owner this side of Waterloo. And let me be a proud supporter of her in her dreams.