How many of you have read the Sesame Street book, "We Are All Different, We Are all the Same?" Our eyes are different, our eyes are all the same... Our skin is all different, our skin is all the same...
Maybe you've seen this cover or read it to your children without really thinking, "What is different?"
I am the youngest child of three, and my oldest brother was born with a handicap called Cerebral Palsy. On top of this disability, he struggled with liver failure, Grand Mal seizures, Toxic Mega Colon, and more. Doctors didn't give him a high life expectancy and in Michigan medical books, somewhere he is labeled as a 'Medical Miracle.' Because he is. When the average person sees my brother, I guarantee that their thought is that he is 'different.' He walks differently, speaks differently, uses the bathroom differently... but compared to YOU, isn't he also the same?
You see, Nathan loves to laugh. One of his love languages is to be read to, spoken to, and to play the computer. He loves technology and to dance. If he could eat a dozen cookies or a birthday cake, he would at the drop of a hat. He enjoys movies and playing the iPad, he appreciates routine and structure and desires to be loved, just like you just like me.
My kids have been around Nathan every few months since the day they were born. He's Uncle Nate and never in their life have they loved him any differently just because he himself is "different." Now, our 4-year old who is really beginning to be able to rationalize some thoughtful questions, has recently asked innocent things like, "When will Nathan be able to talk?" or, "I hope someday Nathan will be able to walk without help from Mimi." And I've felt blessed to explain to him that Jesus created my brother and that in this lifetime, though it may seem difficult, Nathan will always live life this way. However, I explain, someday Nathan will be given his Heavenly body and he will be able to dance and run and walk and talk SO perfectly, because that's what Jesus intends for him. We come back to the here and now and I get to explain to my son that Nathan really isn't all that "different" from him and without hesitation, my son runs past my brother and says, "Hey, Nate!" just like he would run past my other brother who doesn't have special needs. Nathan is different, but he is the same.
Flash back a few weeks ago when our family was at the Waterfront Park. A young boy ran past my son and I and immediately it was obvious he had several quote on quote, differences. His head was very large compared to his body, he had a tracheotomy, his voice was altered because of it, and my 4-year old immediately pointed and said, "Mommy, what's wrong with that boy??" He seemed very concerned and I quietly and gently lowered his arm. I stooped to his level and whispered, "Let's go some place else to talk." I explained to him that though he didn't mean any harm, we really shouldn't point at anyone. I then said, "Pierson, you remember Uncle Nate right?" "Yes," he responded. "Well, Nathan was created differently, but you still love him the same. The same is true for this boy. I don't know his story, I don't know the reasons why he looks the way that he does, but I know that Jesus created him. I also know that we need to love him." I was wishing this boy would run past us again so that I could hop up and introduce my son and I, but he didn't. When we saw him though, he had a group of friends around him and I was so thankful that he did. My son dropped the conversation and just went on to play, but more questions came later that night.
He asked me again, "What was wrong with that boy." I haven't quite seen my son as worried as he seemed to be for this other child, so I told Pierson that I felt we needed to pray. I prayed aloud that God would calm his spirit, ease his mind and that the next time he saw anyone 'different,' that Pierson would be able to befriend him. We talked a few minutes longer and I left his room holding my breath. I exhaled as I shut the door, sat on my bed and began to weep. That was by far the most difficult conversation I've yet had to have with my son, and my heart wept for my brother, this boy, and for any other human who has gone through life wondering if they would be loved in spite of their differences.
This topic doesn't end at special needs. You ask any kid who has a learning disability, speech impediment, anxiety, a different skin color from his or her classmates, a different accent, who feels attracted to a different gender, who identifies as a different gender... ask them if the first thing they feel when they walk into a room is love. And what about me? At barely 5'2'' I stand shorter than most. As a teacher, I'm smaller than some of my own students! I've got pointy ears, get adult acne, and as a mom, I couldn't even breastfeed my babies as long as I wanted to. While I didn't choose any of these things, how different really, do they make me from YOU?
At 4-years old, my son's questions won't stop here. Our world is large and vast. He will go to school with trans-gendered children, he will grow up knowing and loving many same-sex couples. He (and I) will continue to see things we have never seen before, and we may not always have "the answers." But as a mom and writer, I am begging you to take a second and pause.
What is your reaction to different? And what message are you going to send your children, who someday you will send off to school, or at the very least, send off in to society. What legacy will you leave behind and how do you yourself wish to be treated?
We are all different.
We are all very much the same.