What If

What If

Several years ago when I first discovered I was pregnant with my daughter, I made a decision that disturbed a few members of my family, not the very least, my husband. I decided that, although I would comply with the battery of prenatal tests prescribed by my doctor, I would NOT alter my decision to give birth to my child should he/she be diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. I am pretty sure that everyone thought I was crazy and though that I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. I was told that adding Down’s Syndrome to the stresses and responsibilities of dealing with a new baby was well beyond my capacity to understand. Well, my daughter is 16 now. She does not have Down’s Syndrome, but even now, I feel the same.

As a teen riding the bus past a work program for special needs adults, I came to recognize my discomfort and fear of these special people. I would dread those times when the workshop would let out and an entire group of special needs adults would board. They were loud and had little or no concept of personal space. They did not edit their comments when they spoke and even sang aloud if they felt like doing so. It was out of my comfort zone and I couldn’t wait for the ride to end!

Week after week I would experience the same scenario on the same bus route on my way to my part time job. At one point I became uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. I hated that I was so uneasy and judgemental. I hated being afraid. I didn’t even know what I was afraid of!  I decided conquer my fears and to immerse myself in a special needs group for the summer. I took a job as a camp counsellor teaching life skills to special needs teenagers.

No one could even begin to imagine what it was like on my very first day, sitting in a classroom waiting for the group of students to arrive. I was incredibly anxious! I was about to spend an entire summer on unfamiliar territory to gain an understanding and conquer my fears. At the moment before the students arrived, my fear was at its peak- or so I thought. Then, the worst happened! The students started to arrive! One by one they entered the classroom; some in wheelchairs, some in leg braces, some alone, some with parents, but all with the same loud, excited uproar that I was familiar with from the bus route. I  was having serious second thoughts about this job. These kids were weird. They were loud. They were out of control. I really was not prepared to handle them. I wanted out and fast!

I didn’t leave despite how I felt. I am not, and never have been, a quitter. I had accepted a job and had set a goal and I would not let my employers, my students, or their parents down. I needed to do this for me. I would stay in this freak show for the summer and give it my best shot! As it turns out, that decision was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was far from easy! I had one girl attempt to escape from atop a roller coaster, one student strip naked at the bowling alley and walk right up the lane. He was 19, completely physically mature and about 200 lbs. Just Imagine trying to get him dressed again with so many watching and laughing! I had chairs thrown at me, was spit on, vomited on (more than once) and completely exhausted, but it was an amazing experience and one I am so grateful for!

The kids that summer taught me more than all of my years of schooling. The irony in these “freaks” as I once thought, is that they hold the secret we all have missed. They are people in the truest, most raw form. They are more black and white than the rest of us. They don’t spend energy concealing who they really are. They simply ARE. These wonderful people wear their emotions on their sleeves. They dance if they feel like dancing, they sing on the bus if they are moved to do so, they cry if they are sad, they laugh wholeheartedly when they are happy. Trust me, the world can’t help but smile when you hear a laugh that genuine!!! Most importantly, these beautiful people love easily, warmly, and without prejudice. They give themselves to whomever they meet, freely and without fear. They live to love, to be happy and to enjoy life. They are not consumed with want and expectation. I learned that perhaps the fear I felt was that of the unknown. People are most often not unedited and free to express their true feelings. My wise brother once said, “The older people get, the better they get at concealing who they really are”.

What if we were able to be true to ourselves and each other the way these teens were/are. What if we could dance when we wanted to without fear of judgement? What if we could love without fear of being hurt? What if we could simply say what’s on our minds without fear of offending? What if we were able to open our eyes to the “freaks” of the world and learn from them? What if the only true difference between us and them is the fear? What if, we simply learn to embrace the differences in others as just one more opportunity to learn about ourselves and each other?

Until next time, my friends, I leave you with this thought….what if all it takes to accept each other is just a little bit of uncommon sense?

That Night

That Night

It’s finally over.   The chaos, the stress, the panic and the spending of the holiday season ends at the close of the day today.  I am not disappointed.    This holiday season especially, I encountered many who were struggling with the time of year as they reflected on their lives.   The end of year mirror is not a kind one for most.  It shows where we are and who we are, not where we wanted to be or who we wanted to have become.

Christmas and New Years bring expectation.   In our minds, we expect things to go a certain way, people to act in a certain manner, family to do what we expect, food to present and taste a certain way and most importantly, we expect to FEEL a certain way.    When even ONE piece is out of place, well, we are blinded to even the most positive moments.

Each year, we approach the holiday season expecting.   Sometimes our expectations are met, sometimes they are exceeded, but most often, they fall short.   Our lives are not picture-perfect Christmas cards. Our families are not from the best-selling made-for-tv movie and our romantic interests are not “Prince Charming” or “Cinderella” and may not exist or be present at all.

This is not a bleak, depressing blog post.    This post is also NOT what you might expect. It is our expectations that lead to our downfall.  It is the expectation that disappoints, not a person, place or event.  Expectation  alters reality.

Think for a moment about your favourite way to relax on your own.   How do you enjoy your alone time?   Does it involve a fire, a glass of wine, a great movie perhaps?  Is it a bubble bath, a long walk, a hot cup of coffee under a fuzzy blanket with your pet?   How is it that on New Year’s Eve, when you find yourself alone, those things suddenly don’t bring you joy and comfort?    The components are all the same.   You have all of the tools you need to be content and even happy, yet, because it is “THAT NIGHT”, you are not able to see reality.   You expect THAT NIGHT to be different.   You expect to suddenly be happy for a different reason.  You expect that you no longer need the tools that always make you happy, because magically, you just will be.   The magic of the season will suddenly alter reality and your entire world for that moment in time will change.  You will be a different person.  You will be happy with other things other than those that have made you happy all along.     THAT NIGHT is a myth.

THAT NIGHT is only just a night.    THAT NIGHT has been given far too much importance.   In perspective, it is ONE night out of 365 nights of the year.   There are 364 nights that do not bring the stress and expectation of THAT NIGHT, so why not treat it as such?    It is NOT a significant part of the year, and so it follows, it is NOT a significant part of your life.    If you are fortunate enough to have reason to celebrate, by all means, do so… as you should any other opportunity that presents itself!   Any reason to celebrate is a good one.  If your reality is THAT NIGHT is no different than any other, then, do something that brings you comfort and peace.  Treat THAT NIGHT for what it is… another opportunity to celebrate YOU, to be grateful for your life and all of the good things that you have found among the other 364 nights.

THAT NIGHT is over for another year, but there will be another one, next year, same time.   You have 364 nights ahead of you until then to celebrate.  Celebrate with joy and without expectation.  Celebrate every opportunity you are able and when THAT NIGHT comes again, remember it is only a small part of the celebration of life.   It is one night.   THAT NIGHT will never be as dark as it once was.

Until next time, my friends, use some uncommon sense and don’t wait for THAT NIGHT to celebrate YOU!