I met with a teenage girl the other day. She was a Senior in high school, and wanted to discuss some options she could pursue after graduation. I hadn't seen her in awhile, so we started our conversation casually, catching up on her job and school and how things were going. I asked her (of course) if she was excited to finally be done with high school. She said she was - that she couldn't wait to get out of there. Then, I asked her about her graduation party.
She looked at me for a blink, then said, "Oh, I'm not having one." I replied, "Oh! Okay. How come?" She answered, very matter-of-fact, "Because what would be the point? Nobody would come." I confess, I had to catch my breath and choke back some tears.
It is so easy to not realize how difficult life is for some people. I have a lot of friends whose children are graduating this year, and have been invited to a lot of grad parties - and I love that and think it is wonderful! But the conversation with the young lady gave me a solemn reminder that everybody has a different life story, and some of them are difficult and sad.
I talked with a young man last spring, right before he graduated, and he told me that he wasn't happy to graduate. He said, "I have no clue what I am going to do next. I don't know. Why would I be happy about that?" That is the reality I see with many of our young people who have disabilities.
This is not a friendly world for those who are different. Quite often, doors are closed and options are limited for the disabled and marginalized people in our society. I know there are laws which help some, but I don't think giving everyone an equal chance in society is something that can necessarily be legislated.
We need a compassion check.
I don't know how many times I have been told that particular students are annoying or scary - judgments made by people who don't really know them or even try to understand why they do what they do. Maybe the kid who wears the hoodie half over his face all the time is just so tired of being picked on he is hiding now. Maybe the girl who loses her temper easily is frightened and lonely inside. Maybe things at home suck. Or maybe it is exhausting to always be reminded how different you are, to be the butt of the jokes and teasing and bullying.
How do we insert compassion into this world? How do we become people who truly, tenderly care about each other? How do we love the unlovable? We pretend to be a society that applauds individuality, but ask people who have autism how often they are applauded for their unique views of the world and presentations of themselves - pretty much they are not. Instead, it has become very important we teach them to do their best to look like the rest of the world.
I hope 180 and the Torch can lead the way in fostering a change in our community at the very least. I hope we can raise the level of compassion exhibited to the people around us, no matter who they are or how strange they might seem. I hope we are doing that now, and that it will only multiply as we begin to train people in our effort to help foster an inclusive work world.
I hope, together, we can all see people as people and can learn to appreciate them for who they are, wherever they are at in life. I truly believe kindness returns kindness, and the rewards we will reap for loving each other - as we are commanded to in the Bible - will astound us. I would hope that would filter right down to our teens and children, and that I would never have to hear a student remark again that nobody would come to celebrate her graduation.