The Journey, First Overlook: Notice

When I finished reading The Power of the Powerless I had a strange vision. I saw our crazy world, full of wars and conflicts, full of competition and ambition, full of heroes and stars, full of success stories, horror stories, love stories, and death stories, full of newspapers, television, radios and computer screens, and millions of people believing that something was happening that they couldn’t miss without losing out on life. And then I saw a hand moving this heavy curtain of spectacles away and pointing to a handicapped child, a poor beggar, a chronically ill woman, an illiterate monk, a dying old man, a hungry child. I had not noticed them before… (POTP, Introduction, p. xvii, xviii)

Let me tell you when the curtain was pulled back for me.

Ryan, you have to come down here!” Jeni forced out her words through tears. “They said Caedmon has Cerebral Palsy, I don’t know what it means, but I think it’s bad.” She was in a doctor’s office in Franklin, NC while I was in my office, 4000 feet above her, in Highlands, NC. I remember telling the staff that something was wrong with Caedmon and running out the door; I wouldn’t have been able to answer their questions anyway. Winding my way down the Gorge Road (Hwy 64), my mind was in a sudden, confusing fog. I had no idea what Cerebral Palsy was. I didn’t know if the doctor was telling us that Caedmon was about to die. Lost in the spectacle of the moment, I didn’t notice the majestic Cullasaja river barreling over the boulders to my left.

The curtain was pulled back for me the moment my sobbing bride said, “Cerebral Palsy.” I didn’t know what I was looking at but it was, no doubt, something I hadn’t noticed before. Over the next few months, I read a lot about CP. We asked hundreds of questions. The same way that our friends, visiting us in the mountains, would ask us about the hiking trails, waterfalls, candy shops, and mountain top views that surrounded us everyday; we were desperate to understand something that was foreign to us.

The effects of CP weren’t obvious in Caedmon’s early months; I doubted there would be any effect at all. But, as he grew so did the manifestation of CP. As I looked on the websites and struggled to accept that the people in the pictures looked like my son would look; I was becoming more aware of how long I’d been in front of the curtain.

Vivid images of kids in my high school with disabilities invaded my mind, one boy in particular. He wore a helmet and used a wheelchair. Always sitting at the head of the lunchroom table, because his chair didn’t fit on the sides, someone fed him his lunch. The only reason I know he existed was because I was serving my “In-School Suspension” sentence from a fight I had been in. Part of our punishment was that we couldn’t eat with our peers. Instead, we ate before them, we ate with the special education class. (We had a huge lunchroom, so I don’t want you to think my school “punished” us by forcing us to eat with them. I’m simply pointing out that they were the only other kids in the room.)

I.S.S. gave me a brief season living behind the curtain even though I was clueless. For a moment I knew what it was to eat lunch in silence, alone, unnoticed by the general population. However, involved in the spectacle of my suspension, my social suffering, and the school work waiting for me; I managed to install a small temporary curtain to keep those kids hidden. I didn’t want to notice.

As Oliver and Adam lead us on this journey, they will force you to notice. Nouwen (he wrote the introduction) said there were, “…millions of people believing that something was happening that they couldn’t miss without losing out on life.” We live in a culture of people, small businesses, and corporations killing each other so that we will notice them. Spending millions of dollars, wearing fewer clothes, using bigger and brighter lights. Getting noticed is the secret to success.

Always look your best.
Put your best foot forward.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Stay in front of the curtain.

I’ve come to agree with Nouwen; millions are missing out on something that is causing them to lose out on life. But it’s not the stuff bathed in spotlight. No, the good stuff is behind the curtain. People that melt your heart and buttress your fortitude live there. Those who let you love them without expectation and can love you without pretension abide behind the veil.

Have you noticed?

Share a time when you noticed. Were you startled, saddened, angered, sympathetic? Perhaps you can remember folks you didn’t notice at the time, please share that too. Let them be noticed now. We are all together, looking at the view, point out what you noticed.

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About ryan85

A son, a brother, a husband, a father of eight, and a friend. A follower of Jesus Christ. A fan of the Seminoles and all teams Atlanta. I write, I read, and teach when I can. I prefer red pens. I'm easily distracted. I've lived in Augusta, GA, northern Minnesota, the beautiful western NC mountains, and Tallahassee, FL - Go 'Noles. I played football for FSU, was on the national championship team in 1999, and took a few snaps with the Pittsburgh Steelers. My favorite colors are fluorescent yellow, and Garnet & Gold. I drive a minivan and think it's cool.
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9 Responses to The Journey, First Overlook: Notice

  1. Dean says:

    Ryan, your words speak volumes to me, and I hope to others. I can completely comprehend about being behind the curtain when it comes to understanding people with a disability. Being in law enforcement I had to pull up the boot straps and go where I had not traveled before. Having to help a disabled person was scary and somewhat overwhelming, but I’m there to serve. Not only are the people that we would see as “normal” or with abilities, but you’re there for everyone. At first, you don’t know about their world. You don’t know if it’s ok to touch them or if they will understand you when you speak, or if you will understand them. It scares you. But why should it, or rather, why should we let it?

    Ryan has opened up a new understanding for me. In reading about Caedmon’s “high five” at the finish line the other day, and his ability to become a part of something that others would say he could not be a part of because of his disability, made me think about how we, the “normal,” are so abnormal because we mess up the world we live in with the “have-to-be-like-this” attitude we put in front of us (I guess that’s the curtain Ryan is speaking of). Caedmon has been on my mind constantly as I’ve shed tears of my frustration, not for him, but for me and the many of millions like me that continually screw up the most innocent and beautiful things we have in this world. Caedmon, you see, he gets it’s so much better than the rest of us. He enjoys what he has available to him. He doesn’t moan about what he doesn’t.

    I’ve had the privilege, yes privilege, to have Caedmon in my Sunday school class at church. Is it a little scary, yes, I’d be lying to say it isn’t, but I have helped him which makes me the better for it. Not so I can pat myself on the back for helping a child with a disability, but because he helps me with my stupid obstacles I have placed before me. I can only hope, if I haven’t pulled back the curtain just yet, at least I’m starting to peek around it, and with help from people like Caedmon, I’ll get there some day.

    • ryan85 says:

      Very well said Dean, and thanks for your honesty. I have had many of the same feelings. Just like you, the cure was getting involved. I’m glad you’ve gotten involved and I’m confident that you will enjoy life back stage.

  2. Jeni says:

    I am overwhelmed. Thank you Dean for your kind, real, and thoughtful perspective. Sometimes as a mother of a child with a disability, I am always going so hard and fast that I get few chances to sit back and take in the impact that our little son is making on the world. I am grateful for you, Ryan, to be able to articluate and “take it all in” so we don’t miss the blessings in our journey.
    Going to a small private elementary and middle school, we had no students with disabilities. I’m sure I passed people at the grocery store or the mall, but nothing significant stands out in my mind. High school was probably the first exposure I had, but even then it was scarce. I vaguely remember one of the students walking differently down the hallway and high fiving people. Oh how I wish I could go back in time! I was so caught up with this world, with other people’s perceptions that it didn’t even cross my mind to reach out! People with disabilities honestly scared me too….I was afraid of what to say or what to do, so I just kept the curtain closed and stuck to my comfort zone.
    When Caedmon was diagnosed, it was scary, but having a “label” didn’t change who he was or that he was our first precious baby boy. I have always felt so confident that God knitted him together in my womb and had every day ordained before one of them came to be. It has been such an amazing journey and I realized that being loved and included in things are what fuels him…..that’s it. It doesn’t take fancy toys or clothes, or “being cool,” not abilities, or success. It’s just love in it’s purest form. I feel like now I walk on with radar eyes…longing to know more people with disabilities….to help them feel loved too. I long to find other mothers and offer them a hug or pat on the back. I have realized that many people with a disability understand everything that is around them, they just can’t dish it out as well as we can….that makes me even more want to reach out a hand…let them know God made them beautiful….He has a plan for their life…..and they are not alone.

  3. Dar says:

    When I was in elementary school, there were a few disabled kids. I remember there was a boy who walked with arm braces. Someone was taunting him once, but it didn’t last long. I honestly don’t remember if it was me or one of my sisters, but we came to his side immediately. However, I have come to learn that it is easier to stand up for the disabled and “unpopular”, than it is to really relate to their struggles. Once, in middle school, I decided to dress up as a nerd for Halloween. I thought it would be a fun, cheap costume. I can tell you that I was never more miserable. The taunts, the looks, the jokes by kids passing me on the street…I realized my mistake right away. I think it also made me a little more empathetic to be ostracized.
    Also, I can so relate to that mental spinning vortex when you hear that your life may be touched my something you don’t even know anything about. When Audrey was born, our word was “tethered spine”…after 3 months the pediatric MRI was finally scheduled and we found out that all was fine, but I remember what those first three months were like.
    If we are going to know the heart of God, we are going to have to see and love and serve those the world considers outcasts, disabled or weak- those are the ones that are closest to His heart!

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