The least of these.
April 6, 2011 § 12 Comments
They kept to themselves, chatting quietly. Some slumped in wheelchairs, others leaned against the wheelchairs’ handles. Like a school of minnows seeking safety they huddled close together.
If this was the sum total of the turnout to protest Governor Scott’s planned budget cuts to the disabled the showing was as sad as the cause—and they really needed our additional two bodies.
We were still on the opposite side of Monroe Street when the group mobilized. Signs held high, they pushed or rode or walked across the street, suddenly full of purpose. We fell in behind them, a ragtag citizenry, fired up and ready to demand to be heard, no matter how small our number.
My heart lifted when I looked up the flight of steps to the state senate building. Hundreds had gotten there before our small group.
As I climbed the steps I heard one of the mothers who was pushing a child in a wheelchair say, “Don’t tell me there’s no ramp. There’s got to be a ramp.” The stairs I had climbed without a thought were an insurmountable obstacle for them.
Eventually the mother found that ramp, but only because we, in kinder times, and as Americans, agreed that everyone deserved equal access to their government.
Standing at the top of the steps was a teen with three wooden posts in his hands, a cardboard sign stapled to each. “Can I have one of those?” I asked. “Please?” I worked one summer with Down’s Syndrome kids in New Jersey and recognized his open and trusting smile.
We Need Quality Care Not Budget Cuts was the message hand-lettered in magic marker on the sign he handed me.
The inadequate PA system crackled as the speeches began. Those who had organized the rally on just three days notice looked gratefully out over the crowd.
I did too. My husband’s son, Sam, who is disabled, has been cared for because, in our collective kindness, we have set aside money for group homes and medical help and caregivers. Together we have done for Sam what no individual or family ever could.
With tears in my eyes, I watched the mother of an adult cerebral palsy victim wipe her son’s mouth with a napkin.
I watched a reporter from The Democrat jotting notes on a pad and hoped he would report what he’d seen with his heart, not just what he had seen with his eyes.
I watched healthcare workers wave signs that said, I Love My Job.
Love of a job assisting the disabled means loving the disabled. It can’t be because of the money, which, even without the proposed cuts is not much.
A man who runs a group home rolled up to the microphone in his wheelchair. He was speaking as a care provider, but also as a man who has depended on public-funded care all his life. “I want to ask Governor Scott if he’ll come to my house and wipe my butt.” The man teared up. ” These people who help us are family.”
What is it worth to us to take care of the needs of those who cannot take care of themselves? What we do next will be our answer. If the cuts go through as proposed, many care facilities will go out of business and many of the disabled could become homeless.
This is personal. For most of us disability has a face and a name. In my case that name is Sam. He didn’t do a thing to deserve the limitations he struggles with every day. Is it too much to ask that we, the able-bodied, show our gratitude for our own good fortune by funding the care of those who are so much less lucky?
Some argue that we have no obligation to provide care to the disabled. True. We provide care not because we are obligated, but because we share a common humanity. Who are we really? Many of us identify ourselves as Christians, so let me quote Christ according to Matthew: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”