I’ve just had such a lovely day. We met up with my 9 year old niece, daughter of one of my brothers, and her mum. We only meet up about once a year, so it is a special time, and we celebrated by going to ‘Build a Bear’ in the city where we live. We also went with my 13 year old nephew, son of another brother, who I see a little more often. My teenage nephew has autism with learning difficulties and I said I would get him a build a bear too.
When we arrived at the ‘Build a Bear’ shop it was v busy and a bit chaotic, and I was worried that it would be too stressful and our special trip would be a disaster for my nephew, and so also for my niece.
BUT it wasn’t.
I went to the shop assistants and asked for help, explaining my nephew had autism and we needed help making the bear.
It was fantastic. A young man called Kieran came over and stayed with us all the time. My niece and nephew had a wonderful time, thanks to complete acceptance of the needs of an autistic teenager and his younger cousin.
And because his needs were respected, my nephew was so happy and his happiness was infectious. We went on to Brownlee and Ivy’s, a café upstairs in one of our local Waterstones’ shops. We felt completely accepted there and nine of us pushed tables together and had drinks and admired the two bears (my nephew’s was actually a dog, but as he is scared of dogs he insisted it was a bear who woofed. My niece’s was a lovely rainbow coloured bear and I can see she is going to be a very tender owner!) Later my nephew loudly proclaimed ‘I love you!’ to me as he came down the stairs in Waterstones, and gave me a big hug in the street outside. This was the first big hug he has ever given me and it was a HUGE moment for me. I was so happy three of my children, my husband and I could spend time with both my niece and nephew and my brother and sister in law and that the conditions were such that all of us could enjoy it. I was very grateful to Build and Bear and Brownlee and Ivy for being so straightforwardly accepting of our diversity.
Today is Monday. Last Saturday my family and I went to a barn dance which had been put on in our church hall to raise money for the charity HCPT http://www.hcpt.org.uk We are particularly fond of HCPT because they took our entire family on holiday when one of my children was undergoing lots of scary hospital tests when she was v little. We know how much fun we had that week with people who had volunteered to come and help us, and what a support it was for us as a family at a very difficult time. The barn dance was really fun, but what made it for us was the joy of one of the members of our local L’Arche community http://www.larche.org.uk/larche-international who had rather severe learning difficulties. She decided that my husband (who she didn’t know) was her partner and claimed him by rushing over and giving him a huge hug and not letting go. We then had to go into a complicated dance where the dance movement ‘stripping the willow’ was central and there was lots of swinging of partners. This had endless potential for disaster, but instead we had a beautiful dance where everyone guided my husband’s partner back to him and to her different partners, and where she smiled and laughed and just had such a wonderful time throughout. She brought out great tenderness in everyone, and her radiant, simple and completely life-affirming enjoyment made us all smile and we left for home feeling so uplifted.
I wanted to write this because often I don’t feel uplifted, I feel scared. I wrote ‘Girl with a White Dog’ because of my worry about the way people talk about minorities in our country today, and because I don’t want a repetition of 1930s Germany. I re-tweet and share on facebook about things that are happening that are not right, about injustice and suffering that we need to be aware of. I will continue to do so.
But sometimes it is so lovely to spend time being aware of the goodness that is in people. I am so glad that Saturday evening and this afternoon gave me an opportunity to see how wonderful it is for everyone when someone with learning difficulties is simply treated with respect and love, and how, in turn, the capacity my nephew and my husband’s dance partner have for sheer, unashamed happiness is a gift for us all. I also loved that my niece, a sensitive, kind and extremely bright 9 year old girl, was also treated with love and respect and also had a lovely day. We all need love and respect, whatever our respective gifts. Nobody loses out when everyone is treated well.
I am glad that people have commented that ‘Girl with a White Dog’ is a hopeful book. Today was a reminder to me that, whilst we must be aware of and fight injustice, Hope is justified. I know that we as a society have the potential, the ability, to be as loving and as accepting of diversity as that young shop assistant in ‘Build a Bear’ and the staff in ‘Brownlee and Ivy’, as HCPT and L’Arche and all the other wonderful people out there who rejoice in all the different types of people in the world and refuse to stigmatise any of them or reject ‘the other’.