I really despise the norms of culture - i.e., what polite society thinks I or others should or should not be doing.
My earliest exposure to it was with my cousin. She was born with Down’s syndrome in the 1960′s. At least one doctor, maybe more, was very clear with my aunt that the fault rested with her. Why? Because she was thirty when she had my cousin. Yes, thirty years old. That was the reason my cousin had Downs syndrome.
Today, that’s laughable. Many women are having babies at the age or thirty or older. They are more at risk for this, but their age is not the sole factor behind it.
In the 1960′s though, families were pressured to put such a child away where someone else could take of them. My aunt and uncle did not do that. They kept her at home. Had this been another decade later, my aunt and uncle probably would have had intense pressure to have an abortion. I doubt they would have done that either.
My cousin was moderately impaired. My aunt once said to my mother that once upon a time, she wished her children would never grow up. She didn’t feel that way anymore after having a child who would never grow up. But my cousin was very loved, by her parents and siblings, and by her extended family. She was one of us.
My aunt and uncle, as well as my aunt’s older brother, got involved with a wonderful organization, the Ray Graham Association, whose motto is “empowering people with disabilities”. My cousin died at the age of six following open-heart surgery, but my aunt’s older brother continued his involvement with the Association for years. Much later in my life, I had two co-workers with family members who were beneficiaries of the work of the Ray Graham Association. It made a huge difference in their lives.
But this is why I think trying to meet the expectations of a culture is a pile of moose muffins (to quote Colonel Sherman Potter). What is normal is subject to change. It’s subject to the whim of whoever thinks they know what you should do with your life better than you do. What’s right today is wrong tomorrow and vice-versa. And ignorance doesn’t stop people from making you feel small.
I am proud of my aunt and uncle for carefully picking their way through the mine fields of decisions, lack of knowledge, and staying true to their Christian beliefs. I am proud of my cousins for loving their sister. I am proud of my Mom for not being ashamed of grieving my cousin’s death. I am proud of my uncle who continued working with this great organization, even though it wasn’t his child who was impacted by their help and assistance.
And I am proud of each and every one of us who follows our heart, makes our own decisions, and doesn’t let our culture dictate what they should and shouldn’t be doing. It’s not easy, but practice helps.
Isn’t she a cutie? She had a biggest smile you ever saw on a small child.
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