I've had other disabilities, too, some invisible. I've been temporarily disabled, paralyzed, made helpless, by illnesses, surgeries, stress, trauma, grief. Perhaps you too have had times in your life when you've felt the utter isolation and frustration of suffering or of being "different."
There are many people I've been blessed with, family and friends, who move through life differently abled. People who are blind, use a wheelchair or crutches or walker. People who deal with medication for bipolar disease or depression. People who are autistic or have asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, developmental or neurological disabilities. People who slur their words or wear head scarves to hide surgery scars or medically induced baldness.
The saddest thing for me is watching how often those who exhibit no visible disabilities do not know how to approach or communicate with someone who is visibly differently abled. But it's so easy: draw near, listen, enter their world, see their special gifts. I treasure the honesty of the insights of a friend who is bipolar who explained how her manic periods give her such creative ability, how the medication so often numbs her ability to feel. I treasure the grand courage of a blind friend, who moved so independently, could pick up your emotions from the radar of reading your voice, who traveled the Diocese giving talks to young people.
I treasure the active imaginations and singular passions of young people who are autistic. I treasure the smiles and occasional sentences of those with dementia or Alzheimer's, the shaking hands remembering how to move to make the Sign of the Cross. I treasure the creative art and wild sense of humor and simple love of a sister with such a conglomeration of mental and neurological and emotional disabilities that there is no easy diagnosis or treatment.
If you enter the worlds of those who are different from yourself, listen to their stories, learn about their quiet courage, sometimes endurance, enjoy their singular gifts, you will feel humbled by how perhaps you have misjudged what is ability and what is disability. You will see new, unexpected, wonderful Faces of God. You will wonder why, as Jesus put it, the blind and the deaf are not those who have these disabilities, but those who cannot truly see, hear, or love those who exist right in front of them.