Saturday, November 10, 2018

Have you Ever Felt Like an Outsider?

“Have you ever felt like an Outsider?”

Some of you who follow me on Facebook know that Walker is taking a class at the University of Memphis called Language Learning Lab.  Discovering this class, taught by his very first speech therapist, Darleen Winters, along with eight graduate assistants, has been one of the most significant turning points in Walker’s adult life.  Initially, it was simply a chance to reconnect with some old friends and classmates, and rediscover the love of learning that had seemed to end with him graduating from all programs offered to those with cognitive disabilities when he was twenty-one. 

In the intervening years, a LOT of things changed, and now there are many opportunities for adults to experience lifetime learning.  One of my regrets is that Walker did not have the opportunity to continue his education without interruption, but maybe those latent years were good for him too, because now, he is sopping up information like a dry sponge.  He LOVES going to school, and his more mature and experienced mind sees things in a different way.

The LLL class is centered on reading a book each semester and discussing and writing and making presentations about what they have read and learned.  In the process, the students have learned to use “google”, “power point”, and many other modern day technologies.  The graduate students are their “editors” and work with them in small groups.  This year’s book is The Outsiders by   S. E. Hinton, a book with some mature themes, which some of the parents have had their doubts about.  Since I’ve never sheltered my kids from the world, and I trust Ms. Darlene’s judgment, I didn’t get all worked up about her choice of this book, but just waited and watched to see how it all worked out.

Last week, I discovered how wise a choice this book truly was.  Just days after the bombing of the Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Walker and his friend Matthew were scheduled to interview Memphis’ most prominent Rabbi, Micah Greenstein as part of their classwork.  Walker has crossed paths with Rabbi Greenstein through the years when he has spoken at our Episcopal churches, and Matthew is Jewish and knew him, although he did not attend his Synagogue.   Both were extremely excited about going together on the interview.   

Walker and Matthew have a budding friendship which began when I invited Matthew to join Special Friends Fellowship Club at an Alumni dance for Walker’s old school.  “But I’m Jewish!”  he said.  I told him it didn’t matter that we were happy to have him if he wanted to come and make new friends.  It turned out he did, and the Special Friends, many who knew him from school, welcomed him.  It turned out that Matthew really, really wanted to be “best” friends with Walker. Gradually their friendship has grown as Matthew has learned that Walker can be a good friend, if not necessarily his “best friend”, and they have bonded.  I’ve been proud of Walker including Matthew in his group of friends.

The night before the interview, I glanced over the interview questions…I wasn’t sure who had composed them, but they were good questions, and I knew the guys would have a good conversation with the Rabbi, and didn’t think much more about it until after it was all over and I got a note from Rabbi Greenstein with some very complimentary remarks, which I passed on to Darlene.  “It really was profound,” she said.  “I had told Walker that the question, ‘Have you ever felt like an outsider?’ was the most important part, and he really took it seriously.  Micah was really affected by it.  It was a special moment.”

Just a few days before this interview I had attended a memorial ceremony at our local Jewish Community Center after seeing an invitation on Facebook for those of all faiths to join in remembering those lost about an hour before it began.  I couldn't find anyone to go with me, but I felt strongly that it was important for other faiths to be represented to I rushed our dinner and told big Walker I was going and headed out by myself, something I rarely do.  I found my way into the gathering, sat down by a lovely couple and introduced myself.  They seemed a little puzzled by my presence, and asked me why I was there.  I fumbled for words, and finally said that I felt that an attack on any religion was an attack on all religions.  They thanked me for coming.  Before the service was over so many people had thanked me for attending that I was overcome.  Rabbi Micah was one of the main speakers, and he asked all those of other faiths to stand, and when we did we were warmly applauded, and those around me reached out to touch me or shake my hand.  As I left many others did the same, and in one very moving moment a sweet woman teared up and hugged me and said "You have no idea."  I probably don't, but I'm beginning to.

Can you imagine how it must have felt for a Jewish rabbi, one of the most persecuted religions in the history of the world, to be interviewed by two young men with developmental disabilities, who face discrimination that they aren’t often even aware of, just days after the bombing at Pittsburgh?  It chokes me up to even think about it.

When people wonder about why I am a liberal thinker, and campaign against discrimination of all kinds…this is why.  When they wonder why I cannot abide those who publicly espouse hate of “the other”…any “other”…this is why.  One God made us all just the way we were meant to be.  He made us in all colors, of all faiths, ethnicities, genders, including mixed up genders and non-genders, and He loved us all and called us to love all those others, even the Outsiders, just as much as we love ourselves and the ones who look just like us.  

 Sometimes I feel like an Outsider just for thinking this way, and it makes me sad.  I’m working on loving those who don’t think like I do, because I don’t want them to feel unloved either.  That’s kind of hard, but I’m working on it.  What about you?

Blessings, Janie