Today I am grateful for the mentally challenged. Okay, before you start twitching for the “reply” icon, please understand that I know I will have to weigh my words very carefully on this sensitive subject. I get it. And if I fail miserably, please know that my heart is speaking and it might be overriding my mind. So there.
I have mentally challenged folks in my Zumba class at the “Y”. Dancing with them and watching them is a special treat because each one is so very different from the other not only in personality, but also in their movements or lack thereof. Just like the rest of us.
One is very tall and thin and he barely moves. One is of average height and thicker and she moves all over the place. One won’t remove her jacket or head phones and spends a lot of time re-tying her shoes. One will only do Zumba in stocking feet. . .no shoes. One doesn’t move any part of herself except her arms. One has to stand right behind the instructor, so close that he could get trample if the she wasn’t aware. One talks and makes comments throughout the entire class. One loves to make squeally noises. Just like the rest of us. Okay. . .me! My point is that even if you take the words “mentally challenged” out of the equation and replace it with “human”, the same characters appear everywhere.
Today the one who refuses to wear shoes, with satiny, too-long pants, slipped on them and fell. She wasn’t hurt, but it rattled her. Her caretakers got her a chair to make sure she was okay. She was, but she couldn’t stop crying. We kept moving until the song was through. Whenever anyone asked if she was okay she said, “I fell down. It hurts.” Honest. Simple.
I should take a lesson. Sometimes when my tears come for no apparent reason, I should just admit something hurts, even if it’s deep inside and I don’t know what it is. It’s okay. What was beautiful to watch today was the way the rest of her friends rushed to check on her. You can’t fake that kind of concern. You can’t deny the living-in-the-moment attitude. The brilliant instructor, smart enough to know the situation had to be diffused, put on the girls favorite song and soon she was dancing and laughing and had forgotten all about her “traumatic” fall. The day was saved. She was saved.
I learned an awful lot when I worked on a wonderful, original musical about the mentally challenged and their families. A musical? About the mentally challenged? What? Who writes such a piece? “Resisting Gravity”, by my friend David Page, was created after years of extensive interviews and research and is an excellent showcase for an often swept-under-the-rug topic. Though last produced many years ago, the songs pop to my head more and more these days as I watch them in my Zumba class.
Some are giggly, some are rude, some are kind, some are cranky, some are stoic, some are emotional, some are young, some are old, some are coordinated, some are not. ALL are valuable. Just like you. Just like me. Mentally challenged people come in every size, shape, color and flavor, like the rest of us. . .and I am very grateful for them.