Two disparate events recently brought me to a common thought. Not long ago I visited a nursing home to be part of a 4th degree color guard for their Sunday Mass. It was a packed house in the chapel. People needing various degrees of assistance attended, from those with a walker to those being wheeled in on beds. As I said hello, the majority of people smiled and were pleased to see us. Some, were obviously in pain or unable to show an outward expression. It was my impression though that everyone did what they could to acknowledge us and extend appreciation. There were two people in particular who came up to us after Mass and said they were grateful that we attended and participated. One was a widow of a 4th degree member and our presence brought back fond memories to her. Another gentleman has been a 4th degree Knight for 30+ years and while he is unable now to participate in color guard events, he too was very appreciative of our presence.
As for the other event, October is a big month for Special Olympics and if you have ever assisted any of the participants in the events you understand how rewarding, and humbling it can be.
So often we see others who we say are “challenged” or “handicapped” and feel a desire to help them. Nothing wrong with that. We are here on God’s earth to assist each other. The risk we sometimes face is how we perceive others in relation to ourselves. If we value those with “challenges” differently than ourselves, we are missing the point. At the beginning of this, I mentioned a common thought. Regardless of whether someone is “challenged” physically, behaviorally, mentally or who we think of as average, the common human element is the soul. The value of a soul is not dependent on the condition of the body or mind, to repeat, the value of a soul is not dependent on the condition of the body or mind. What each person deserves, and needs, is dignity and empathy. I saw this first in my Dad. He has always been open to helping deliver basket to impoverished families through St. Vincent De Paul, visiting nursing homes, or taking communion to those who can’t get out to the house. I realize now that anytime I have accompanied him when I was younger he had a way of expressing dignity to everyone equally. Whether it be through humor or just listening, my Dad has a natural gift for understanding what other human beings need most. His reward being a smile on someone’s face.
I read in a book once that those who face “challenges” to what we consider “normal” are actually the strongest among us. That makes sense when we consider how we may react if given the same circumstances. I would contend that I am sometimes “handicapped” myself…handicapped by what we consider as normalcy. When I fail to appreciate the will and spirit it takes to overcome obstacles just to survive in our “normal” world, then I am “handicapped” by a lack of understanding of the value of individuals who regularly accomplish such feats. Additionally, if I fail to see the value of each human soul individually, then I miss out on God’s greatest gifts, and some of God’s greatest work. It makes me pause at times when I think I am doing something good for someone in need. I should stop for a minute and wonder who is really doing the giving and who is really doing the receiving.