“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, May 10, 2004

The "bleedin' obvious"

In the British sitcom, "Fawlty Towers" Basil Fawlty (John Cleese)makes the comment ostensibly to his wife (but actually under his breath)about an observation she has made. He states, "Contestant, Sybil Fawlty, category, the bleedin' obvious."

Sometimes, people's questions of how to act toward individuals with disability although seemingly unknown to them, to me is the "bleedin' obvious." Recently a woman friend of mine made a presentation to a group of women at a Christian women's retreat. When she concluded, a participant raised her hand with a question. She asked, "A disabled woman attended our church, and even became a member, but we haven't heard from her lately. What should we do?" For a moment my friend was taken aback. "Well, do you have her phone number?" "Yes" the woman replied. "Well, why don't you call her?" At that the woman took out a pen and paper and wrote the suggestion down. "Maybe you could take her out to lunch." "Wonderful" the woman replied excitedly.

For some reason, common sense goes out the window when people with disabilities are involved. Should a friend of ours need a job, we respond that we will do what we can to help. However, should that person use a wheelchair, we ask if he has contacted the state agency that assists with job identification. I even knew of a situation where a young woman with mental retardation was sexually abused and raped. The people at her employing agency just sent her home that Friday because the state agency who works with disabled people wasn't open till the following Monday.

A friend of mine, an intellegent doctor once said to me that he would love to help out adults with disability, but he didn't have any training. He honestly felt he didn't know what to do.

However, I have seen glimpses of the same helplessness in myself. When I was a church leader, a family in our church was rocked by the husband being arrested and sent to jail. When asked what I might do to help this family, the words came out of my mouth, "I don't know how to work with the family of someone who is in jail." Almost as soon as those words escaped my lips, I recanted saying, "Well, I guess they will need help with child care, and with basic home repairs, and maybe money will be a bit short." Even with the most rudimentary thought one quickly comes to solutions.

Yet at times I think Christians don't even give interactions with persons with disabilities the most rudimentary thought.
"What do disabled people need?" they might say. Well, probably somebody to give them a call now and then, or take them out to lunch, or give them a ride to the mall, or include them in a holiday celebration.
"But what would I say?" they might say. How about, how are you doing, or did you see the Lakers game, or nice weather we are having, or tell me about your family.
"Should I help a person who is blind with their lunch, or a person who uses a wheelchair with the door?" they might say. How about asking, do you need some help with your lunch or with the door?

Innumerable other situations might be imagined with equally difficult answers. "What if they spill their food?" Maybe clean it up. "What if they fall down?" Maybe help them get up again. "What if they use bad language? (those with emotional problems)." Maybe tell them, please don't use bad language. "What if they need something?" Maybe ask them what they need.

Sometimes I feel like Basil Fawlty.


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