I attended the last talent show of my girl’s high school career in June. Of course I got there JUST in time for a lovely rendition of “All About That Bass” by Heather’s classroom, and a slightly awkward solo of “Moves Like Jagger”- complete with dance moves. Next up was a boy and his dad, singing and playing “This Land is Our Land”. I don’t consider myself a super patriotic person, although for some reason I always tear up at the National Anthem, especially if it’s performed by anyone under the age of 10 or a service member. But to be fair, I also cried when some kid sang a Justin Bieber song, and sometimes at commercials- The Budweiser Horse and the puppy? Forget it!
Anyway, this particular version of This Land is Our Land was particularly meaningful to me, as it probably was to everyone there, because it was sung by a student with disabilities. I know the song is meant to be about America and it being “made for you and me”, but in that moment, it was about life and experiences and society. About being a part of something. I had envisioned crowds of people, disabled and not, crowding around, singing, demanding their right to be a part of something good. Or something bad. To be able to make choices about their day, week, year. To be able to make a move without having it written down or charted. To be able to have a bad day, without it being graphed and put in their permanent record. With the song, this boy was claiming his right to mess up and make mistakes; to love and lose; to fail and keep trying.
Heather graduated this past month, and we are now struggling with losing her place in the “land” of school, and helping her find a place elsewhere. She is faced with a life of choices ahead of her, in theory anyway. A life in this land that’s made for you and me. She is a part of a few things, a private yoga class, the YMCA, and frequent trips to the mall for new wallets. She chooses very few of those activities herself. I choose them. I choose them because I know her, I know what she is interested in, and what type of activities she can handle in a day. I choose them because regardless of how great Walgreens is, no one can spend 5 hours there three times a week.
The moral of the story isn’t that people with disabilities will have the exact life that people without have. It isn’t that they should be doing things regardless of their understanding or ability to do them. But we can help them be a part of this land that’s made for them, give them experiences that broaden them and help them grow, even if it isn’t exactly what their typical peers might be doing. Some mistakes she won’t be allowed to make. I won’t let her walk into the street just because she chooses to. But I will let her have a bad day, and help her deal with the consequence of the choices she makes on that day. I will sign her up for a yoga class, and pay out the nose for a private one, because while she has a right to be involved in that activity, so do the other paying customers who expect a quiet peaceful class.
Unfortunately, sometimes the ones we love aren’t able to take advantage of this wonderful world of opportunities as some others can. Sometimes the ones we love can’t take advantage of this land at all. It falls to us to do that for them. And it’s a daunting task, but I can help make her days as full as possible. I can share her with the world. Because this life was made for her. And she makes this life better.