I had never considered the difference between darkness and absolute pitch black before-where you can see nothing whatsoever - I am not sure I had even thought there was a difference- I have now realised that there is. Before entering the main dining area we met our waiter Ryan and we were asked to stand in a line with our hand on the right shoulder of the person in front us. Ryan then led us through a fairly dark corridor into the pitch black. I don't know how they achieve it but it is the case that I have never experienced any darkness like it- dense black - I could see absolutely nothing and my eyes never adjusted during the two hour meal. When we entered I felt intensely vulnerable - there were obviously other people eating and I was overwhelmed by how loud everything seemed and how disorientating it was. Ryan led us clearly, warned us when we were approaching curtains and seated each of us at the table. It was necessary for him to place our hands on the chair and to guide us into it. I couldn't tell where any of my friends were, it was very strange and we were totally helpless - if we needed the toilet we had to raise our hand and a waiter would lead us out. We had lost all power. Truly fascinating - but now I am coming (at last!) to my point. Ryan was able to laugh and joke with us, to see to our needs and care for us - to ensure we got the food we ordered and he knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going.
This may seem like a small feat but it makes a huge point. Able bodied people are often of the opinion that a disabled person is in need of their pity because they believe disabled people have a deficiency that makes their lives less...livable. Our society questions whether children with disabilities should even be born - what is the point if they are just going to be miserable?
What an incredibly arrogant and blind (in the true sense of the word) assumption. While it may seem to be a small thing this restaurant stands to make this point - all nine of us were utterly useless in that space of darkness, given ten years I don't think I would have found my way out let alone waited on tables and served a total of 60 diners in one session. Yes able bodied people are fine until they find themselves challenged beyond their capacity. That is exactly what this place did and it showed that far from being disabled Ryan and his colleagues were highly able- there was no deficiency here - only efficiency - life had challenged them so much that they did not need sight. The deficiency is ours. I am not suggesting that sight is a bad thing or that we all walk around with eye patches- I am just making a point about the attitude of our supposedly equality loving world does not make room for actual equality- it strives for a sameness which devalues and disables all of us by failing to recognise both our abilities and our disabilities as aspects that make us real, struggling human beings. It is often our disabilities that make us great because they challenge us
It is also worth noting that because we were eating in the pitch black we all ate very carefully and to our amazement not one of us split anything on ourselves. Interesting. Even we had become more aware of our movement and the way we ate.
My eldest brother, as most will probably be aware, had no thumbs but his writing and sketching surpassed anything I have ever been capable of. He was incredibly precise and aware of detail. Far from being a deficiency his lack of thumbs made him very attentive to the formation of each word and picture. Equally, Jean Vanier who begun the L'Arche communities found in the adults he lived with life's greatest teachers. Having spent over forty years living with adults with learning disabilities he argues that these men and women are the people closest to Christ because their love of life and other human beings is without affectation or agenda- they give a tremendous amount- a million times more than they take. That is not to say that those in his communities are perfect - often they have been rejected by their families or institutionalised and they suffer a great deal because of this. However, in Vanier's homes able bodied people live as assistants, there is no differentiation between assistants and those they assist - Vanier argues that the assistants are often in more need of his help then those they are supposed to be helping. And it is often those with the 'disability' that nurse these assistants back to health - the great Catholic writer Henri Nouwen went to L'Arche and found love and life there which helped him overcome crippling depression- he even wrote a book about the boy he was assingned to care for and I would recommend it if you are interested (just click on the title which will take you to Amazon) its called Adam
My ultimate point is how can we be so ignorant as not to recognise the realities of life and humanity? British society constantly repeats phrases about diversity and the value of diversity. Yet at the same time it would see a disabled child aborted legally up until birth because that baby is different - the wrong kind of diversity. How can you even claim equality when there are different laws for an 'able' and 'disabled' child? I suppose that what made me want to put this into words in the first place was seeing my friend's baby scan today - she is 6 months pregnant and you could see her little baby clearly - I am just devastated by the fact that a baby with a disability can be thrown away and that the world will have lost a potentially beautiful human being with capacities that someone 'able bodied' may not have possessed. People talk of the arrogance of the Nazis who said that some people did not deserve life because they were not of the same value- how can this society claim a distinction?
Our values can only change when our hearts change and we admit that disability does not equate to deficiency - life is far too great, complex and mysterious to allow that.