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Everyone Has Feelings

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Picture it … you are walking down the street and a man is walking toward you. Well, not exactly walking, more shuffling. He doesn’t stand straight, he is not dressed as most men you see today, his haircut is out of style, his mouth sort of hangs open but as you pass he smiles and says “Hello”. How would you respond? Would you smile back, repeat his greeting? Or would you attempt to avoid eye contact, pretend you didn’t hear him and walk on your way? If you were with friends would they laugh and call him names and make fun of him? And would you join in their “fun”?

Ten years ago, this man would have been my brother. Today he would be approaching you in a wheelchair as his muscles are deteriorating at a rapid rate. Fifty years ago he was diagnosed with the label “severely retarded”. Today we use another label: mentally challenged. He carries the “physically challenged” label as well. I don’t like labels. To me, he is Steve. And he is the most honest, sincere, genuinely innocent person I know. I wish I were more like him.

Yet YOUR reaction to him, your response to him means more than any of us ever realized. Last week I sat at an intake meeting for a new program he is entering. The interviewer asked what makes him sad or angry and his response was quickly given, “When they call me retarded.”

Steve is now fifty-six years old and his entire life has been spent in special programs. He attended the Easter Seal Center pre-school, Slinker School, Ruby Van Meter School and then went directly to the ARC (now Link Associates) sheltered workshop. He has never worked in what would be considered a regular job. But he has socialized. We are from a large family and Steve is very much part of that family. One might even say he is one of the most cherished members of our family. He always has a smile, is always encouraging, loves to joke and tease, but is never mean. He loves everyone.

Now, what is it about this man you would avoid? Because whatever your reason, the loss would be yours. You would miss out on his quick wit, his total acceptance of you as the person you are. He would not ask you to change one thing about yourself, would you do the same for him?

I ask you, the next time we have Steve at a restaurant or out shopping or at some sporting event, don’t stare. Don’t let your kids point and laugh. Come over and introduce yourself. Tell him it is good to see him enjoying life. We are not ashamed of him. We are, however, sometimes ashamed of you. He would never hurt your feelings or make you feel bad. Please don’t do those things to him either.

Thank you,
Steve’s sister

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