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Words of wisdom from younger women – Part I

Posted in Life & Love, and Uncategorized

Storycorps
It’s not often that radio reduces me to tears. In fact, the last time was about 16 years ago when, driving to a yoga class, I happened to catch David Sedaris reading, in his trademark whinny high-pitched voice, his essay on being an elf in a large department store at Christmas. It made me laugh so uncontrollably, tears streaming down my cheeks so copiously, I feared for my safety.

Typically, I will turn the radio on while I drive and my attention will wander in and out: the main news at the top of the hour, an occasional song that will draw me in but, mostly, it’s background noise for my thoughts. But a few days ago I experienced a moment of grace, while whizzing down I-10 at 7 am. A 2 minute interview, part of the StoryCorps series, between a mother and  daughter, came on.

StoryCorps is an American non-profit that, since 2003, has been recording Americans from all walks of life with their travelling recording booths – short interviews between family members or friends, recording snippets of lives for posterity. All recordings are archived at the library of Congress. They are usually touching stories of ordinary Americans and, in a way, this was no different if not that the grace of Myra and Bonnie Mae Brown could barely be contained by the radio format, so much so that it stayed with me for days, until I mentioned it to sofagirl and we decided to post it.

Bonnie and Myra in 1998
Bonnie and Myra in 1998

Bonnie Mae, a severely disabled woman with a very low IQ, gets pregnant and conceives a child, Myra, she goes on to care for, while working at Wendy’s.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t actually realize that you were different. You had to tell me you were different” Myra says to her mother. We can view  this simple statement as a child’s acceptance for lack of experience but, to me, this speaks to the rules and conventions and notions of difference we inherit and blindly follow without questioning.

We are so ill-equipped to embrace the “other”, the different – always easily spotting the differences rather than looking for what unites us.

Bonnie says the hardest thing she’s had to overcome is emotional hurt.  Myra explains that people often blatantly stare at them when they’re out in public.

And I would say something. I guess I am kind of protective,” Myra adds.

The short conversation between the older woman and her smart, poised 15-year-old daughter is a reminder that disability is in the eye of the beholder and that a bond of love is what always, always matters. And that the right instincts and an innate wisdom reside in us, from a very young age, and that when we are not conditioned by norm, they still shine through.

Listen to the story

Today, Myra is enrolled in gifted and talented classes at her high school in Lansdowne, Pa., and hopes to attend the University of Cambridge when she graduates.

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12 Comments

  1. NPR/PBS you can’t beat them – they’re the best. I’ve got one of my car radio buttons tuned to NPR. I worked with developmentally disabled children during an internship for one of my Psych classes while in college. I remember one little girl telling me she wished she could have a new brain. It was heart-breaking and I was at a loss for an answer. I was very unimpressed (that’s putting it mildly) with their teacher and complained to my professor about her. This teacher was the last person you would expect to oversee the developmentally disabled. My professor said, “Aren’t you glad that you don’t have a child in that class!” On my last day visiting that school, as I was walking out, a little black girl came running towards me down the corridor. She was one of the girls from my disabled group. She gave me a hug and with a big smile, told me that they were moving her out of the developmentally disabled group and putting her into regular classes. I shared her joy. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

    Speaking of the norm, I was watching Katie Couric yesterday. She had transgender children on the program. One child, now a little girl, was 6 years old. She said she knew she was in the wrong body since she was 3! She was one of 4 other siblings and her parents were accepting and loving. The mother was eloquent. As the show progressed, the little girl drew closer and closer to her mother. You could see that she understood everything that was being said. She appeared to be very intelligent but frightened, sensitive, and near tears towards the end. She kept looking towards her father as if she wanted him to come to her rescue, but he said and did nothing. I don’t know why her parents would want to put her through that. It seemed like an awful experience for her although the program was very educational for the audience. As these children get older, they want surgery to complete their transformation. This surgery was out of reach for one set of the parents on the show. No mention, other than that, was discussed about these costs and what they were. They want to live “normal” lives like the rest of us.

    Bonnie and Myrna view their situation as lacking in some ways. Ah perception!! It is so interesting to me! How many people wish they had what Bonnie and Myrna have!!!

    February 27, 2013
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    • Wow, thanks for sharing. D all those people who think that gay, lesbian and transgender is a choice that can be reversed have an answer for a kid who says she has known since 3? Changing gender is not only costly, but also painful and the process drags on for a number of years. Some countries, like the Netherlands, cover for most of the costs but we are still a long way away!

      February 27, 2013
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      • Your posts always make me want to share. I’m sure you’ve noticed! lol! I don’t know what it takes to make people less judgmental. The children on the show seemed well adjusted to me.

        I’ve admired the Netherlands way of doing things for a long time. I even considered moving there at one time they impressed me that much! I still feel connected to that area because I watch a cooking show by Andreas Viestad who lives in that region. I love the photography and the dishes he cooks, mostly outdoors!! He’s funny, educated, and an excellent teacher and chef. The website is http://www.newscancook.com (New Scandinavian Cooking) if you’d like to take a look.

        February 27, 2013
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  2. silvia
    silvia

    Thank you girl, very wisely and heartfelt written.
    By the way if you’d look around for a definition of the words ability and disability I think it would be surprising and inspiring to check what you’d get.
    It’s like trying to define the word normal. What’s normal? And above all who’s entitled to give a definition of it?

    February 27, 2013
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    • We do a very good job of trying, don’t we? Defining and codifying way too many things!

      February 27, 2013
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  3. Janet Rörschåch
    Janet Rörschåch

    Am now running to npr.org to find this and listen to it. This touched my heart. Thank you.

    February 27, 2013
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    • Thanks Janet. I actually love many of the Storycorps stories. If you have time, you might want to check others out.

      February 27, 2013
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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this story. It really was touching to read and to listen to. I think it really shows how we all need to view people with disabilities differently. As Denmother commented previously, they ARE more capable than what they are given credit for.

    Yasmine

    February 27, 2013
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    • Thanks Yasmine. If the story made just one person think a little bit differently, it will have served its purpose.

      February 27, 2013
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  5. I love this story and I love that you posted it. I have worked many years with developmentally disabled adults and have met many wise and wonderful people, capable of more than they are usually given credit for.
    Denmother

    February 27, 2013
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    • I think if we remembered to give more voice to the “other”, we might all be better and wiser people. Thanks for commenting

      February 27, 2013
      |Reply

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