On to part two of five(ish). And I know I said this was going to be about disability and church. It's not very church-y or God-y yet. I'm getting there.
Read part 1.
A few months ago, I read The Speed of Dark, which is told from the perspective of someone who lives with autism. I learned a few things about autism and was surprised to find I could relate to a lot of it.
I wish I had the book on me so I could pull some more direct quotes, but basically, Lou, the narrator, talks a lot about feeling like his world is made up of two kinds of people – the normals and the not normals. He has some very specific patterns and environments that he prefers (twinkling lights and the whir of a fan) and even needs to help him unwind. He talks about how he goes to the grocery store when it’s quiet because otherwise, when it’s crowded, his brain cannot assimilate the information correctly. It takes him longer to make sense of all the sounds being thrown at him and creates a stressful situation. So it’s just better if he does when it’s quiet.
I know that I sometimes feel like that – like I am not normal but that everyone else is. Sometimes I really need some quiet downtime to de-stress from the overwhelming noise of life. And I definitely go to the grocery store when I know it will be quieter for the same reason! ;) So even though I don't live with autism, I could identify with the character's feelings and perspective.
I'm a firm believer that while there are a variety of experiences across the human spectrum that not all of us get to know, there is a much smaller spectrum for feelings. Even if I can't identify with someone's experience, I've most likely lived with the same emotions in a different situation. I don't know what it is like to be bound to a wheelchair, or depend on a white cane for sight. I have no experience with Down's Syndrome or spina bifida or mental illnesses. But I do know what it is like to be different, to feel like I am missing out on something that "normal" people get to experience, to be on the outside, to wonder why, in a world of 6 billion people, God in His sovereignty brought this on me, and then in the same breath to praise Him for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I may not get the particulars of what it is like to live daily with a different disability, but emotionally, I've been there.
I also don't think that you have to have a disability to find some way to empathize with the people who do. I think it's less important to understand the disability itself than it is to sympathize emotionally. One doesn't need to have a disability, for instance, to understand loneliness. Or rejection. Or to wonder, "why me?" We would do well to seek common ground rather than stress our differences, methinks. What do you think?