It was Henri Nouwen who described Adam, a man with severe intellectual disabilities for whom he acted as a caretaker as "my friend, my teacher, my spiritual director, my counselor, my minister." You might read those words and dismiss them thinking, "What a nice thing to say about someone" particularly someone with a disability who has been devalued by most of society. "He is trying to bring dignity to someone who doesn't have any" you might think. But it is not a sweet thing to say about someone, it is the truth. If one submits oneself to such relationships and one is paying attention, there are so many things that are learned. As in the title of this posting, they are things learned which were never taught.
We learn things about society, we learn things about ourselves. We also learn things about the person with the disability if we give sufficient time to learn them. Once again it is about presence. Presence changes things, it reveals things. I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog about how the presence of a man beaten and left for dead revealed the character of those around him in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is that kind of learning.
"What will I be willing to do in such a situation?" I learn about myself.
"How will the enviornment change when people who have not been integrated experience full integration?" I learn about the social enviornment, be it the church or other social settings.
"Do I love my neighbor?" A challenging neighbor will reveal that to me.
"Do we as a church love our neighbor?" A challenging neighbor also reveals the heart of those in the larger environment.
Once again there is no effort typically on the part of the person with the disability to teach anybody anything. But the lesson is there and the possibility of learning is there.
Will we allow, no, will we facilitate the potential for this type of learning to occur?