During my life this writer has been in many crucial conversations or at least the subject of them. Doctors said I should never have made it, social workers said that if I did I would be a burden, teachers said I was and wished I never had made it to their class at least. Supposed experts said I was retarded, others claimed I was a genius — all conversations and whether to me or about me crucial for that moment.
By now, if you have read anything on this blog, you know I’m loud, opinionated and to qoute Ted Turner “lead me , follow me or get the hell out of my way!” Since I have been in a chair nuns have told me to be mindfull, social workers have told me to be angry and more than a few others have told me to go to hell. Then the ever amazing Paul Martin, Director of SCILS Nambour (a group who have become my heros for their tireless work with the mentally disabled, when most of you would rather turn the other way and make out they were invisible) he was the first in his caring style to ask, not tell me, if i wanted one more conversation and yes the group organising it called it crucial and so we went.
The event was held by a great organization called CRU. They are dedicated to addressing the REAL issues of day to day life for the disabled community and to removing social stigmas stopping disabled people from taking their rightful place in society. They also do great work supporting those that support the disabled such as caregivers, family members and educators alike.
I will admit that after years of experts, seminars, teachings and symposiums the hope I held for this one was not large. That was until I read the topic and the list of speakers. One name that caught my eye was the Venerable Yeshe Khadro, a personal hero without whom much of the work of the Dalai Lama and the teachings of the Buddha would to a large extent have never left India. Back in 1974 when most of you thought Lamas spit and Buddha was a little fat dude who you only saw sitting on counters at Chinese take aways. Yeshe Khadro bought the peace and joy to the Diamond Valley in Eudlo, Queensland along with 2 lamas and a few hundred hippies. A group, through her generosity along with the help of a few others was born. That group FPMT (The Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Teachings ) was to become the umbrella group that brought and still to this day brings His Holiness, his message of peace and teaching centers to the farthest corners of the globe. She certainly is 90% of the reason I, till this day, am a devout Buddhist. So because of that name alone on the invitation, my spouse and I boarded a train to Brisbane on Wednesday the 23rd. My spouse was hopeful that I would gain a sense of community and that she might get some answers and perhaps together, a feeling that we were not alone in the struggles of the disabled and wheelchair bound.
If Yeshe Khadro alone had spoken we would have returned home smiling and feeling good. She spoke of her dedication to the dying and opened many minds to the Buddhist concepts of anger and courage. She told stories of her experiences in Tibet, India and here in Australia working with people transforming their anger at their experiences into courage. The next speaker was a man who spent the earliest years of his life, where but for the grace of Buddha I would have, locked away in institutions and sheltered worksops until as he put it he broke free. His name is Mike Duggan and he was severly disabled with a neurological condition that made speaking, verbally almost impossible. Yet his heart and his mind speak every language on earth. His courage, his wit and sarcasm hits at the very core of societys ingrained assumptions that if our bodies are broken so must be our minds.
Lastly, but never least Anne O’Brian, a mother of a 12 year old with severe Cerebal Palsy, Epilepsy and blindness who can’t speak. She started her speech with the most humble comment I have heard in generations. After telling us that her son had multiple serious disabilities, that her and her husband regularly climbed moutains with him on their backs and fought tooth and nail for his basic rights, if that wasn’t enough to put her on the highest parental pedestal, she then said they took him out of special school and he was now graduating 7th grade to attend normal high school. She so wrongly proclaimed “Courage? I don’t have the big kind. Not the soldier man saving life kind but I guess I have some.” Anne, you are one of the most beautiful, caring, brave people it’s ever been my honor to share a room with. She shared pics of her boys, her family and was quick to point out everyone elses courage and perfection. My dear Anne it is that very attitude which makes your kind of courage the biggest of all. Not only your family, but anyone lucky enough to share breathing space with you is humbled by your daily life and the life you give to your son while still finding time to work with CRU to make the lives of all of us better.
I always sprout off “RESPECT OUR EXISTENCE OR EXPECT OUR RESISTENCE” as my scream at the universe for daring to meddle in my ability to stand and fight for myself, but now I know Anne and Mike and, of course, my Yeshe-la are in the world, I know that my existence will be respected as long as they are fighting for me and those like me. My crucial conversation with the universe has always been loud and full of why me’s but after being humbled by the likes of these people and once again inspired by the amazing Yeshe Khadro I won’t stop the yelling, but it will be for the rights of others. I promise.
If the speakers were not enough to leave us inspired and elated, the people we met that attended, some disabled, some family members dealing with disabilities, all told their own stories filled with courage. They were inciteful and they gave us friendship and hope.
Still always RESPECT OUR EXISTENCE OR EXPECT OUR RESISTANCE!
P.S. The contact info for karuna hospice and CRU IS BElOW