Thursday, January 29, 2015
Would I Still Do It?
I posted this picture on IG the other day with the following caption:
I am brave because I keep sharing even though I'm not sure it's making a difference. I am brave because I strive to meet stares, uncomfortable situations and rude comments with kindness and understanding, and I try to teach my kids to do the same as well. Oh how it would be so much easier to label every outsider as ignorant and offensive, but in my heart of hearts I don't believe it's true. Finally, I am brave because I'm learning that vulnerability is the mark of a strong heart.
I was tagged by a couple of friends and asked to complete the sentence I am brave because... for the We Brave Women project. In regards to the first sentence, many people commented telling me how I've made a difference in sharing my story and the stories of others, referencing the special needs spotlight and other special needs posts. I was so grateful for everyone who commented to tell me that I have and am making a difference. As much as I needed and wanted to hear that, I quickly wish that I had reworded my post saying instead '...I keep sharing even though I'm not sure it's making a big difference.' The truth is I know I've made a difference to many people, you've emailed me, you've commented on posts both on the blog and Instagram. I've even had a couple really special stories directly related to the spotlight that I always look back on to remind myself that yes, this little blog has made a difference.
So I sat there feeling bad about what I said, one because it came off like I was fishing (which I was) and two, I didn't want people to think I didn't appreciate their stories, their sincere thanks and gratitude. Still I couldn't help shake the feeling that I hadn't made a BIG difference.
A BIG difference.
Bingo. That was it.
My blog has not reached the height and popularity I would have hoped for by now. My Instagram followers are also small in comparison. And while we're at it neither Oprah or Ellen has ever reached out to me to commend my work. What? While I didn't start doing the special needs spotlight to propel me to fame or recognition, I have definitely hoped my work would spread further than it has. Because it is work. Humbling, beautiful, and sometimes holy work, but work nonetheless.
Then in the back of my mind came a question: What if your reach always stays small? What if your sphere of influence never grows much larger than where it is now...would you still do it? Would it be worth it?
A few weeks ago I was flipping through channels on a Sunday morning. Not something I often do since I'm usually at church, but being home sick I channel surfed. Serendipitously I came across Oprah interviewing Timothy Shriver. Who is Timothy Shriver? Well besides being the brother of Maria and the son of Eunice, he is also the current Chairman of the Special Olympics. Perhaps you know that the Shriver family is part of the Kennedy clan, the closest thing us Americans have to royalty and that Tim's mother Eunice (sister to President John F. Kennedy) started the Special Olympics. I don't know much about Eunice Shriver, but knowing that this woman who was born to wealth and privilege, turned her interests to one of the most marginalized groups in the world--people with intellectual disabilities--and started the Special Olympics in the 1960's (no less!), a time when, as her son points out, institutions for the intellectually disabled were still growing...well, she inspires and amazes me.
As luck would have it, I caught the interview with Tim early on and was able to record most of it. Today, I went back to watch and remember some of what Tim said and found myself nodding along with tears welling in my eyes. Oprah asks him, "What is it about special olympians? Why is it that going into that space for some people makes them so uncomfortable?"
His answer, "Well I think we're all afraid. Think about who these people are. They're not smart, by traditional definitions. They're not rich by traditional definitions. They're not pretty by traditional definitions. They're not successful. They sometimes look sick by traditional definitions. They're all the things we don't want, that we're afraid of... Nobody wakes up in the morning saying I wish that for anybody. So a lot of people go, 'Well I'm sorry that happened to you.' You know one mother told me [that] she has 3 sons. Two work at big investment banks and the other has a severe intellectual disability. She told me, 'Overtime people ask me about my sons and I tell them about my oldest who's in New York and I tell them about the second one who's in Chicago and then I tell them about Christoff who's at home, who I have to get out of bed every morning. And they always say to me, 'I'm sorry.'' And she said to me, 'Tim your life work is to tell them to stop saying that about my son. That boy is the light of my life and everyone thinks I should be afraid, that I should be sorry that I had this boy. And he is magic.'
Tim goes on to say, "If you have a baby what's the first thing you ask a doctor, 'Is the baby ok?' Sometimes the doctor says 'No, baby's not ok.' And your world comes crashing in you know... like what is this child? This child is not healthy, this child is not going to be whoever everyone thinks he should be... It's terrifying. And yet we all feel that. So we come to these games expecting to be sad, expecting to feel pity...And I always want to say... that pity, that fear that embodies that 'I'm healthy and they're not' I think there's a strength in vulnerability that only vulnerability knows. You know I think in some ways the whole Special Olympics gamble is, Is there power in vulnerability and trust? And I think the answer of our athletes is, There is only power in vulnerability and trust.
I grew up [with everybody] in the spotlight...thats' where we all wanted to get to. That's where you'd be successful. And what I saw was that sometimes when the lights are the brightest, people feel the most invisible. I think sometimes where you think you want to go, is not the place where you will find your heartfelt, most meaningful, most purposeful life. I looked around thinking I wanted to be like all those people in lights, and I found myself happiest in places nobody wanted to be."
The answer to my question came quickly.
Yes I would still do it and yes it is still worth it.
There are definitely times I have wanted to quit the special needs spotlight (and sometimes blogging in general) or drastically scale back. And every time that desire hits I get an email or sometimes a phone call or in person conversation where someone tells me how much they love what I'm doing--especially the spotlight--and I get this little nudge to keep going. And so I do. While I'm by no means the only one blogging about special needs and in fact there are a couple of very well know special needs bloggers, in general it's not a glamorous topic. I've even been told by some people that they find the spotlights sad and depressing. Of course all the more reason to keep sharing, because I also see my work as removing the fears and stigma surrounding disabilities. I will always continue to blog about art, tutorials, and my family as well, but when it comes to my blog I have found myself, like Tim, happiest blogging about things nobody wants to blog about.
Up until now I always thought I was to keep going because at some point my blog would get a big break, a tipping point. For the first time I'm realizing... maybe not. I mean, maybe... but maybe not. Maybe there is no big break, maybe this is as big as this little blog gets. Like so many people I have found myself wanting to do something great, wanting to make a big difference and have a measurable impact. Thankfully there are those throughout history who stand out as our great leaders, entertainers and policy makers. They are the people we build monuments to and write books about. But just as important, are the billions of humans who have moved along quietly doing the small and unremarkable work of everyday life that on it's own goes unnoticed, but all together is responsible for pushing open the doors on which the hinges of humanity hang. Mothering, fathering, teaching, feeding, nurturing... what good are the queen bee's if we have no workers? And so when I wrote my I am brave statement a couple days ago I said it with the understanding that I knew I was making a small difference, but when was I going to make a big difference? Some of is is selfishly motivated, but some of it is the fact that work just seems easier when there are big rewards attached. So now I find myself embracing a new sort of bravery. A bravery that asks are you willing to do the work your doing now even if it remains a drop in the bucket in terms of making a difference? It's funny that I had never contemplated that before, but really I hadn't. Again, the liberating answer was yes.
And now instead of expectations attached to the first sentence of my brave statement, I will simply say, I am brave because I will keep sharing.
Thanks to everyone who has ever let me know they read, love, support and have ever been impacted by this little blog. It means so much to me. Gosh I hope this post came off right... anyone else ever struggle with this desire to do big things but a realization that perhaps the small, quiet things are actually more important, and may even be where your heart and happiness lie? Also, what did you think about those powerful words from Tim Shriver? You can see snippets from the interview here.