The notion I'd conjured in my imagination decades ago-that Anne was my dark antithesis-faded rapidly. Instead I began to see her as my counterpart, one I'd lost touch with long ago. She had what the world I grew up in had supressed in me, what drinking had numbed. In spite of her disabilities, she was everything I wasn't, or what I'd imagined I wasn't allowed to be. She exuded the joie de vivre that dries up in you when you're raised to believe that the trophies and rewards you accumulate will make you happy, and that the pursuit of truth and beauty is only for dreamers and fools. Blue blooded manners had not made her self-conscious. The light in her eyes had not dimmed with complacency. Formality had not put a lid on her howls of laughter. If she felt like dancing, she danced-wherever she was. If she wanted to sing, she sang-whatever song happened to drift into her head. When she had an urge to smell your hair, your cheek, or a magazine, she leaned over and sniffed. She was in every sense of the term a free spirit.
You know that freedom that free spiritedness is something that persons with cognitive disabilities can bring to the church. The joy of life. The freedom of being unconcerned about the judgement of others.
In Becoming Human, Jean Vanier has a chapter called "The Path to Freedom." In it he writes,
We set out on the road to freedom when we no longer let our compulsions or passions govern us. We are freed when we begin to put justice, heartfelt relationships, and the service of others and the truth over and above our own needs for love and success or our fears of failure and of relationships.
The Church could learn these things if persons with cognitive disabilies were regularly in their midst. But in the same manner as Secret Girl, we have sent them away, at least in terms of not having them in our midst.
Molly Bruce Jacobs talks about how her sister asked her, "How was your vacation" because that is what her sister had been told as the reason no one had ever come to visit her. Your family is on vacation...for 30 years. Her response upon seeing her sister was not and angry "Where have you been for 30 years." It was a loving, and Jacobs argues, forgiving, "How was your vacation."
How was your vacation, Church?