From the Editor: A rather touching story is making its way around the Internet. It goes like this:
In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning-disabled children. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school career, while others can be mainstreamed into conventional schools.
At a Chush fund-raising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that will never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, "Where is the perfection in my son Shay? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God's perfection?"
The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish, and stilled by the piercing query. "I believe," the father answered, "that, when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is in the way people react to this child."
He then told the following story about his son Shay: One afternoon Shay and his father walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, "Do you think they will let me play?"
Shay's father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But he also understood that his son's being chosen to play would give him a comfortable sense of belonging. He approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shay could play.
The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said "We are losing by six runs, and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team, and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning."
Shay's father was ecstatic as Shay smiled broadly. Shay was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning they scored again. Now they had two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base.
Shay was the batter up. Would the team actually let Shay bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved up a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay should at least be able to make contact.
The first pitch came, and Shay swung clumsily and missed. One of Shay's teammates came up to Shay, and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher, waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shay.
As the pitch came in, Shay and his teammate swung at the ball, and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out, and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond the first baseman's reach.
Everyone started yelling, "Shay, run to first; run to first." Never in his life had Shay run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball.
He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman, who would tag out Shay, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head.
Everyone yelled, "Run to second; run to second." Shay ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases toward home.
As Shay reached second base, the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base, and shouted, "Run to third."
As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, "Shay, run home!"
Shay ran home, stepped on home plate, and all eighteen boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero because he had just hit a grand slam and won the game for his team.
"That day," said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "those eighteen boys reached the level of God's perfection."
One would have to be a pretty confirmed cynic not to feel a tug at the heartstrings when reading that story. When I first received this e-mail, I faithfully passed it along as I was challenged to do, but I must admit that, even so, it gave me some moments of discomfort.
If we think about it, most blind people can remember situations in which we have been cast in Shay's role by one or more people. After all, isn't that what undeserved, unnecessary preferential treatment is all about? When a blind musician is pressed to perform and then praised out of proportion to the talent displayed, when a teacher excuses a blind student from doing all the work the other students have been assigned, when everyone conspires to push a blind person to the front of the line--the unavoidable message is we are changing the standard or the rules just for you.
The truth is that decent, generous people often find it pleasant to go a bit out of their way or take extra trouble to be kind to someone less fortunate. But most of us, even when we are demonstrably less well off, do not appreciate assuming the role of recipient of charity or charitable intentions if we recognize what is happening.
Complicating the situation is that sometimes the most charitable thing we can do is quietly accept the kindness in the spirit in which it was offered. But sometimes, in order to maintain our integrity or educate others, we must find the courage courteously to refuse the kindness. For the more often we compromise our standards or accept undeserved preferences, the easier it becomes to do the same thing the next time. At the bottom of that slippery slope lies certain second-class status. Besides, selfishness, self-delusion, and laziness frequently result from being the consistent recipient of such good deeds. How many blind people do you know who have an inflated notion of their own abilities and a strong tendency to blame others when they don't get their way?
In this e-mail anecdote Shay had no capacity to play baseball as an equal; if he was going to join the game, the boys had to throw out the rules and bend their efforts to hand him the gift of successful participation. Very often sighted people assume that we are in precisely that position. Without their changing the rules altogether, they think we cannot take part in ordinary activities.
Heaven knows there is enough inhumanity loose in the world today that one hesitates to caution people against allowing such selfless impulses more or less free rein. But I am reminded of Dr. Jernigan's warning that we "are tired of having our road to hell paved by other people's good intentions." I can find no simple test to help us decide when to grit our teeth and accept kindly meant gestures and when, on the other hand, to insist on pulling our weight. For the most part I try to keep a firm grasp on my abilities and politely insist on carrying out my duties and meeting the requirements I can. I take my turn hosting coffee hour at church, stand in lines, and pay full fare. And when people want to spend time describing visual detail so minute or complex that I can't possibly follow it, I listen with what enthusiasm I can muster and thank them for the information.
But I am an adult and have worked out my methods over long years of dealing with experiences of all kinds. Children can be dragged into patterns of unhealthy behavior simply because their parents don't know any better, and strangers are particularly inclined to respond to the pathos of the poor, lonely blind child. Parents of blind children must be particularly vigilant to insure that their blind youngsters don't receive preferential treatment when they are capable of working to a higher standard. And the rest of us must do our part to help parents and kids maintain those high standards.
Kevan Worley does what he can to educate the public about what constitutes appropriate behavior toward blind people. He is acutely aware that this part of our message is not always happily received and that it must be delivered with great tact and understanding. The following is a letter he wrote to a woman who had been compassionate but less than helpful in responding to the mother of a blind child. Here it is:
June 7, 2000
Focus on the Family
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Dear Ms. Thurman,
I understand from a recent article in the Denver Post that Focus on the Family receives almost 200,000 pieces of mail each month. That indicates to me that someone in your position, a correspondence assistant, must be incredibly busy. However, I write in hope that you will take the time to consider assisting me with a problem I discovered in this same Denver Post article.
The article states that the mother of a nine-year-old blind boy "was writing about the `Adventures in Odyssey' tapes, the radio drama series produced by Focus that encourages children to solve problems using God's principles. Her son didn't have any friends, she said. His only playmates were the characters he came to know through the ‘Adventure’ tapes. At night he didn't snuggle with his favorite stuffed animal or blanket. He took his cassette player to bed and listened to `Adventures in Odyssey.' `Thanks for producing them,' the mother wrote. The letter landed on the desk of Jacquelyn Thurman, a correspondence assistant at the Colorado Springs-based ministry. `I just cried,' Thurman said. `I just pictured that little boy not being able to see, but holding this radio.' Thurman sent the boy a box full of tapes--at no charge--and dashed off a note to his mom: `Give him a big hug from all the `Adventures in Odyssey' gang."
Ms. Thurman, I am the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, and after reading that portion of the article, forwarded to me by Doris Willoughby, a special education teacher and sighted wife of a blind electrical engineer, I too wanted to cry. I truly understood your heart going out to a nine-year-old blind boy holding his little radio filled with `Adventures in Odyssey,' and I can appreciate your need and willingness to help. But I suggest that good intentions and a box of tapes will in fact probably do more to cripple the child in question than it will help him. As wonderful as the radio programs are, they cannot take the place of real friends for this blind child (peers, both sighted and blind); role models; social interaction; education; and life experience.
I wish you had known about the National Federation of the Blind so that, along with tapes of his favorite program, you could have sent him and his mother information about our organization of parents and teachers of blind children. Had you known of our Federation, we would have been able to introduce this child to successful blind adults from all walks of life, vocations, hobbies, and interests. I would love to have had the opportunity to take this child to our Buddy Club, a little club started by our National Federation of the Blind Denver chapter, which pairs energetic, successful blind adult role models with blind children and teens.
The Buddy Club is facilitated by Julie Hunter, a longtime member of the organization and officer in our National organization of Parents of Blind Children. For more than two years I and my little buddy William, who is blind and in a wheelchair, had all kinds of real-life adventures and odysseys together traveling throughout Denver, playing games, reading books, making cookies, and much more. By the way, last year William and his mother were very excited to tour the Focus on the Family headquarters there in Colorado Springs. In fact, we also have a very active NFB chapter in Colorado Springs, of which I was president for many years, until I moved to Aurora for a new business opportunity last October.
Ms. Thurman, please trust me when I say blind children can grow into active, engaging, successful adults if they're given the means to do so. But many times blind children are expected just to sit in their little rocking chairs with their little radios, being waited on and pitied. But I think we can make a difference, you and I and the caring members of the National Federation of the Blind. If you still have the name and address of this family, how about forwarding this letter to them? Ask them to contact me for more information about the hope, dignity, respectability, and promise possible for their blind child.
I am also sending you some pamphlets about the National Federation of the Blind as well as one of our Kernel Books full of true-life stories about real blind people. Thank you for taking the time out of your incredibly busy schedule to consider my comments.
We will probably never know whether or not Ms. Thurman learned anything from this letter. She wrote a response which suggests that she missed the point. She assured him that "Adventure in Odyssey" personnel are very aware of the courage and capacity of blind people, and to prove it she sent him a tape of a program in which a blind woman described her gradual recovery after being raped. She had learned to forgive her attackers. But we can also report that subsequently one of the "Adventures in Odyssey" had to do with a blind child who had friends and was part of the crowd. So maybe the word is out that there is a better way than pity when the object of that emotion is capable of appropriate action. In any case, we must be alert to the problem and quick with compassion when that is appropriate, determined always to carry our part of the load, and willing to help the public understand why it's important for us all to do both.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $__________(or "______ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: ________") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."