It seems contradictory.
That’s what many are trying valiantly to do: with ethnicity, with medical diagnoses, with mental health, and more. Celebrate and acknowledge the differences while also leveling them on the front of acceptance. It’s hard. It’s hard because so many vehemently deny the value in our differences. Some want to pretend they don’t exist. Others want to do the worst and erase the ones not like themselves. Many don’t see the struggle people have to just be accepted as equal, invaluable human beings. The privilege most of us have to never have to question our validity is left unnoticed.
Looking back on my own life, I see this subtle path that has effected my own personal view of things. Not by grande efforts on the part of my parents or anyone else. Simply by existing and being involved with other human beings – knowing our differences and accepting them. It was never an extraordinary experience but ordinary circumstances.
The first one: In the Southern Baptist church I attended with my family as a very young child there were a few people that stood out to me. All these memories are in the mind-frame of a 4-7 year old child. One woman always stopped us to say hello and ask how we were doing. She always seemed to be smiling. I remember her singing in the choir. This is one of the first people I remember that was different than me. I knew she was different and everyone loved her for her differences. We’ll call her Ms. A.
Next, my kindergarten teacher. We also went to church with her. (I said small town, right?) She was bright and encouraging. Her classroom was the “fun” classroom in the K5 building. She is one of the people that taught me to love to read. (A gift you can’t repay!) Every memory I have of her she was teaching and smiling. Even when we caused trouble she somehow managed us in the kindest way. It may sound silly but Ms. S is one of my favorite people to remember.
In first grade, still in public school, my teacher had a ritual. She had some favorite people. I think it was Wednesdays or Thursdays our lunch time in the white-clean lunch room matched up with theirs. We always stopped to say hello, to chat, and half the time we were “late” getting back to our room in the elementary school. I remember my teacher, Ms. N, telling one of the teachers “I always have a better day when I get to see them smile”. I can remember all of their names because she would greet each one of them individually while we, her 1st grade class, stood in line to wait for her to go down the hallway.
That was just the beginning. My earliest childhood memories of normalizing differences.
Ms. A had Down Syndrome. Mrs. S had a limb difference. Ms. N’s “favorites” were the kids with special needs. I know they adored Ms. N too because of how excited they were to see her!
None of these people may ever know how they influenced my views. I hope someday or somehow they are able to know that those little things, the day-to-day simplicity stuck with me. I absorbed the truth of their unintentional realities. Until I really, really thought about it intentionally these influencers in my life were just another part of my disconnected memory. A while back, I began to put the pieces together. I considered why I see things the way I do. What they did for me and my heart were so immeasurably important. Yet, all they were doing was to exist – doing their jobs, being friendly by saying hello, and living their lives.
Our experiences matter. The way we treat others matters. What our children see us doing matters: the way we respond or react and how we interact. It’s so deeply critical what we do in the simplest moments.