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 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.
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.