Monday, August 26, 2013

The neighbors

A lot has been written lately about  neighbors. An insightful, eloquent piece by Sandra Joy Stein in the NY Times describes life with her four year old son  who, after contracting autoimmune encephalitis two years ago, was left severely disabled.

Ms. Stein relates the various adjustments that she has had to make in the wake of that. Particularly difficult has been parrying the reactions and questions from neighbors and friends which she does with dignity and grace.

This challenge struck a chord with me.

As I commented there, several of our neighbors routinely watch me struggle up our 24 steps with my daughter C. without so much as a half-baked offer of help. And I mean the adult, able-bodied male version of neighbors.

True, some women have offered assistance and while I never accept, it is reassuring to know that not everybody in our vicinity is callous.

One family's experience trumps even our most horrific neighbor-nightmares. The anonymous hate letter that Karla and James Begley received about their autistic son Max [see it here] has left me wondering what sentiments our neighbors may be harboring behind their perfunctory cordiality.

Watching the TV interview with the Begleys, I was impressed by their devotion to Max. Karla disengaged from the interviewer repeatedly in order to address and reassure her son. I hope I would have done the same but I'm afraid I might have concentrated on impressing my interviewer to the detriment of C.

Here is a portion of the letter they received:

While many others rallied around the family after the story broke,  the parents' shock and fury is nonetheless justified. As Karla noted, it highlights the long way we still have to go toward acceptance of the different.

In my country, we witness demonstrations against in-community hostels for people with disabilities. On occasion even the mayors join their shouting, placard-waving constituents. Here are some local survey results: 
  • 79% of respondents would support a hostel for the disabled in their own city
  • 74% would support one in their neighborhood
  • Only 50% would approve if it were in their own apartment building
  • And, as the reporter noted: this was only their response to the idea and to a pollster. It is safe to presume that the real numbers would be far lower.
Apparently, these enemies of people with disabilities forget that their children are just one accident or illness away from joining ours.

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