Monday, August 13, 2018

Taking Care of Each Other

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to three doctors from Las Vegas discuss their up-close-and-personal front-line response to the Route 91 Harvest Festival last fall. Something that all three of them mentioned several times was that, given a different crowd, the outcome could actually have been much worse. An unusually high percentage of the concert goers, they noted, seemed to be EMTs, firemen, police, military or former military, and had some degree of first responder training. They pointed out that none of the male concert goers they saw were wearing shirts, all the shirts having been removed to apply pressure to wounds or create tourniquets; far more victims arrived by private vehicle than by ambulance; some individuals were even able to assist nurses in triage and initial interventions. In a horrendous situation, hundreds of people rose to the occasion, not just with tremendous selflessness, but also with remarkable competence.

This goes to the heart of something that has bothered me since I was a teenager: the narrative often pushed by media and others that traditional conservatives, who place emphasis on self-reliance and eschew government involvement in most aspects of life, approach the world that way because they are selfish and don't care about community. In my experience, most people who feel that way do so because they care deeply about their neighbors and communities. They believe (with a fair amount of evidence to back them up), that as we delegate more responsibilities to government agencies and bureaucrats, we tend to lose, as individuals and communities, whatever skills or knowledge or capabilities went with them, and often fare worse in some meaningful ways as a result.  The reason they place such emphasis on self-reliance and self-sufficiency is that they believe the more personally involved with each other and prepared we are as individuals and families, the more capable we are of caring for one another when things don't go smoothly--that we are, in fact, more capable of taking care of each other well than any government agency ever could. The individuals with a heavy investment in self-reliance are exactly the people I generally want to be surrounded by, because those are the souls who run toward the fire, both figuratively and literally.  They always believe that caring for and protecting their families, neighbors, and communities is their responsibility, and they take responsibility seriously.  That is not something to scoff at.

We can have good faith debates about the efficacy or necessity of this program or that agency.  Doing so becomes difficult very quickly, however, when you impugn the motives of the very neighbors who are not only willing, but, because of the life they've chosen, very capable of coming to your aid when you need it most.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Differently Abled

One of the modern takes on various learning disabilities, mental health challenges, and atypical wiring is to reframe the issue as an individual having an unusual set of skills or perspectives that are outside of the norm--a gift, rather than a handicap. The intentions behind this approach are noble, and I even believe it to be true in many ways.  When I see Temple Grandin's description of herself as "different, not less", it makes me feel like cheering.  I get it.  

But the fact remains that the world isn't built for people with these challenges.  Much of what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis to keep life functioning at a minimally healthy level is much harder and takes a lot more work--and not just for the individual, but for their parents and spouses and caregivers as well.   If someone is having to live their life with one hand, we may express admiration for their ability to perform many of the same tasks as those of us with two hands (maybe even almost as effectively), with proportionally increased strength in the other arm and various learned adaptations.  We don't generally demand, however, that they be grateful for their one-handedness and how it makes them special; we recognize that they are not just working differently than us, but also much, much harder, to perform tasks that the rest of us view as so routine that we rarely give any thought at all to how we accomplish them.  When the labor (and inefficiency and adaption) is primarily mental, we sometimes unintentionally sound as though we are making that demand, as we drive clumsily toward seeking greater understanding and acceptance.

If you have a child or spouse (or, if the genetic lottery has really smiled on you, both) who has a learning disability or mental illness and some well meaning individual tells you its a gift, you aren't a bad person if you want to shout, "Can I return it?!"  You can love your spouse or child and all the unique pieces that compose their personality and soul, and still sometimes just think to yourself (or say out loud), "I hate [ADD, ASD, LD, etc].  I effing hate it.  I hate that it requires so much of my time and money to effectively manage and treat while simultaneously making it more difficult to manage time effectively or bring in more income.  I hate what filling those gaps takes away from what I have to give to other loved ones who also need me.  I hate having to be the emotional ballast because, well, I can, when I'm emotionally drained and struggling, too. I hate that so many pieces of my life are put on hold or pushed to the back burner because the resources just aren't there to deal with them, and looking around at the unfinished projects and problems discourages me.  I hate that all the demands that this puts on my time and energy means that I'm always tired, which makes the painfully long to-do list and the emotional labor that much more overwhelming."  Moms and dads, husbands and wives, its perfectly OK to feel like this isn't a gift, but a burden, that you and your whole family pay a price for carrying.  If you sometimes feel hurt, frustrated, depressed, or even angry, it doesn't mean you don't love your spouse or your kid, and it doesn't mean you're not a wonderful caregiver or companion.  It just means you're human, doing your best to serve those you love in a sometimes difficult calling.  And, as a family member of a wonderful soul with a disability should know better than most, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being human.  So go ahead and breakdown and let out all the things that are burdening your heart; cry or shout if you need to.  Just don't unpack and live there.

You can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep filling the gaps and picking up the slack and putting in that second shift (and third. . .), and do it joyfully.  Because the truth is, you really do see, better than anyone else could begin to imagine, just how mesmerizingly gifted and unique is that soul, whose care has been entrusted to you.  You are blessed to know, with intense clarity and intimacy, the incredible things that they are and could be.  Yes, be grateful: be grateful to God that he brought this effulgent soul into your life, and honor the sacred trust he has placed in you by loving them without reservation. Help them shine; chances are they are having many moments of frustration, sadness, and anger, too, and they need you to use your two whole, healthy hands to lift and sustain them.  Trust that He will use His divine hands to do the same for you, and you will find much joy in the journey, no matter what challenges you face.