Ever since I started Observations from Below back in high school, I viewed it as a way to make positive differences in my community. That is why it is hard and depressing for me to write blogs like my last one about Nazis in America in the year 2017. Thankfully I’ve seen a few glimmers of hope which showed me that in fact, we are making progress. It’s even better that these glimmers were unexpected. It’s always risky to write about religious experiences because everyone has their own perspective about something that personal. I found that out when I wrote about my deacon putting his hand on my head, which made me uncomfortable. To some, it’s a gesture of a blessing, so you would have thought I unleashed the most vicious attack on the Church. My point in that column was that despite that one occurrence giving me mixed feelings, my experience with the Church has been overall more welcoming than many other people with disabilities have had.
I bring my church story up again to give you all an encouraging update. A few weeks ago, that same aforementioned deacon surprised the hell out of me in two ways. First, he patted me on my shoulder instead of my head. Even more startling, he offered a special prayer for people with disabilities and mentioned concepts like discrimination and underestimation. I’ve been attending the same church all my life, and that’s the first time I ever heard a prayer like that. Most of the time, they usually pray for the sick.
My church experience wasn’t the only promising incident I’ve had in recent weeks. I also played a small part in a concert, where I was chosen out of the audience to play Buddy Guy’s guitar. I had no idea that when he started to approach me that that was what he actually had in mind. In my experience, people are very uncomfortable touching me or even getting close unless they know me very well. In contrast, he walked down the center aisle and saw me in the front row. He smiled at me for a moment and took my hands to make me play his guitar. Unfortunately, I don’t have photographic evidence, but he did give me some of his guitar picks as a souvenir.
I think the lessons learned from both of my recent encounters is that of inclusion. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it also adds to everyone’s experience. In the case of the Buddy Guy concert, the audience clearly appreciated my small part and garnered one of the largest rounds of applause of the evening. In reference to my church deacon, his shifting mindset might make the Church more welcoming to other minorities. His paradigm shift represents a major step forward.
The two events I’ve written about so far are good for me, but they’re not the reason I’m writing this article. There has recently been a feel-good story in sports which attracted national attention. Jake Olson, a blind student-athlete from the University of Southern California recently fulfilled a lifetime goal of his when he perfectly snapped a ball for an extra point during their season-opening football game. For those that are not aware of his backstory, it reminds me a bit of the movie Rudy. Rudy was a lifelong fan of Notre Dame who eventually made the practice squad and was allowed play one snap. Olson has been a lifelong fan of USC (in fact viewing a USC football game was his last wish before losing his eyesight) and was allowed to play one snap as well… so far. I much prefer writing stories about inclusion than Nazis. Here’s hoping that we see more acceptance and less division.
That’s how I roll….