March 6 is Spread the Word to End the Word Day (www.r-word.org).
A little over a year ago I didn’t know about the significance of March 6. I made poor word choices without thinking about why I chose a certain word or how my words affected others. I would say, way more often than I would like to admit, “That’s so retarded.” I even used the short bus line a few times.
I never meant any harm. It was just a word or phrase that many people used. After all, in high school I befriended a boy with Down syndrome, Mark, who rode the bus with the rest of us who had to take a bus to school. I was very shy in high school, but to this day I recall the time Shawn (a bully) started to mock Mark. He was making fun of Mark’s math class. I was sitting next to Mark and tried to ignore Shawn. But I couldn’t take it. I asked Shawn what math class he was in (knowing he was in a math class several levels below his current grade level). (OK, so I didn’t take the high road with that one.) I remember telling Shawn he would never be a quarter of the person Mark is. I continued to sit with Mark on the bus for the remainder of the year, truly enjoying his company. (And Shawn stopped picking on Mark.)
Yet, all those times I said “That’s so retarded” I never put the connection together that what I was saying would’ve hurt Mark had he ever heard me. I never would’ve wanted to hurt him. I never thought about how it would’ve hurt Mark’s parents to hear me make a short bus remark, especially since they must have been so proud that he was riding the bus with his “typically developing” peers. I never realized I was perpetuating a negative stereotype that people with intellectual disabilities are less than those without a disability.
I never thought.
But all that changed August 28, 2011. That’s when I was given a deeper gift of compassion and grace wrapped in 19 inches, 6 pounds 4.9 ounces. And my compassion and need to advocate grows with each amazing smile he gives.
I’m sorry it took me so long to have my eyes opened, but I’m glad almond-shaped blue eyes opened them for me.