Yesterday, my dear Canadian friend emailed me about a video she thought I’d like. Like doesn’t begin to cover it. The video is of a TED Talk – Andrew Solomon: Love, no matter what. I emailed right back to her, and as I wrote I thought that the letter might be the base for a good blog.
Here’s the blurb that describes the video: What is it like to raise a child who's different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)? In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents -- asking them: What's the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance? I urge you to view it – and think about its message.
My email with a tweak or two: Where do I begin to write about Andrew Solomon? Thank you for giving me the link– what a powerful talk. Through it all I was fascinated at how he could keep the train of thought - so logical, so flowing. “Did he memorize all that?” was just my running undercurrent as I listened and absorbed it.
I guess he meant it to shock, but as he began I was just appalled at what he was saying about homosexuals. How could a man in this day and age stand up and say that? And then he told us it was a quote from 1966. Whew! O.K. – upward and onward!
His description of vertical and horizontal identities – those vertical we get passed down from our parents and family, those we get horizontally from our peer groups - Wow! What a concept – he opens up so many avenues of thought. I had to stop ‘thinking’ and resume listening.
My wonderful, talented nephew is gay, thus the homosexuality theme struck home, but so did the Down syndrome topic: my youngest sister was born with it. She died when she was six, I was sixteen, because she’d swallowed a part of a toy that lodged in her intestine. Later on in years we often thought how she would have fared as an adult – but it was a moot point. What struck me again was the attitude people had towards these DS children. One day in the early 60’s when I was a teller, starting out on my banking career, I waited on a regular customer of ours who had a little girl with DS. (It’s nice to use the DS designation today – then we just called them mongoloids.) So – after I’d waited on this lady the next customer stepped to my window. The first words out of her mouth were “If I had a child like that I’d kill it.” I had all I could do to hold on to my teller machine and not pick it up and throw it at her. It’s a moment that is vivid in my mind.
We’ve ‘come a long way’ in these last fifty years or so, and we’ve a long way ahead. I know that sentiments like that woman’s are still being thought, but at least they’re less prevalent and are less frequently voiced – about a DS person or any other “not us” individual.