Could I Be a Bridge?
Being different is always hard. No matter what it is that sets you apart. I grew up with a deaf brother and exposure to folks with different physical and developmental challenges. My family has always had a soft spot in their hearts for all the folks who struggle with these issues every day. My parents taught us to open our hearts and be respectful. I think a big part of this is being able to face the unknown.
When my father ended up in a wheelchair towards the end of his life, people often ignored him and deferred their conversation toward me when we were together. He loved this! This was a personal challenge for my Dad. He was gonna force them to interact with him and make them see that he was sharp as a tack and possessed a quick wit that could stop you in your tracks. He was 6’5” tall and very accomplished, yet the minute he was sitting down, he was invisible and sickly and mentally-challenged to most of the passersby.
What I notice in my world is that folks often ignore people who look different than them. It’s awkward to communicate. It’s often uncomfortable when you don’t know what they can and can’t do physically. You may not even know if they understand your conversation. And what happens if you say something stupid?! I remember going to my brother’s deaf club group and talking very loud and slowly all night while over-enunciating to the gentleman sitting across from me. My automatic reaction was to practically shout at him. Which was fine, until he mentioned a couple hours later that it was the guy sitting next to me who was deaf, not him. I never thought to ask any questions, I just assumed. I think the deaf club is still laughing at (not with) the dorky girl who scream-talked through most of the meeting!
Life is hard for all of us. I mean first-world difficulties like when I get my morning latte and it isn’t as hot as I like it. I constantly forget how lucky I am. I try to work on this a tad bit by volunteering for groups like Laura Baker Services Association (LBSA).
I see these clients all around Northfield and I witness the astonishing strength they possess. And I see the joy when they accomplish something new. And I get to see the smiles when they feel part of something bigger. And I get to chat with them when they come in my store. I’m gonna be the one who uses humor to soothe the awkwardness and teaches my friends to ask what help someone might need before they make assumptions and push a wheelchair or grab an arm. I can assure you I won’t always do it right, but I want my circle (my ‘peeps’) to always show respect and take the risk of learning something new!
So, in a very teeny way I guess this makes me a “bridge.” My ‘job’ is to help my part of the world feel a little more comfortable being around people who need extra time to speak or a slower pace to walk. I’ve had fun as the Hospitality Chair for the LBSA Annual Black-Tie Gala for the last three years. It’s allowed me to introduce a lot of my personal pals to LBSA and the great stuff they do! Being involved in the Gala also makes it extra easy for me to remind my Mom to make donations like 25 hand-painted flower-shaped tablecloths for the Gala tables or the year she gave a gorgeous copper sculpture for the silent auction. Mom even sponsored Father Christmas to greet guests and take pictures at the 2011 Gala…although she didn’t believe it when I told her he was the “real” Father Christmas. Even my sister & her business partner (Beth Closner & Randy Lutz) who have very little extra time to donate, have chipped in to provide meals for the gala volunteers or help box up winning auction items at the end of the event. I don’t let any of my family or friends off easy! As my Mom says, “I love seeing these donations and this effort working right here in our own community. It’s important that these people aren’t invisible!”
Mary Closner, Owner
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