My mother-in-law blurted it out the other day – the feeling that many have about what it must be like for me to have a son with “special needs.” She’s a kind woman, not thoughtless, but not thoughtful about language or how that language tells her what she’s thinking. Or, in this case, not thinking.
“It must be so hard,” she said, sighing on cue, looking wounded, “to have a child with special needs.”
“Here we go again,” I thought. I’m going to open my mouth and explain the language of the drag. Now, I’ve always been interested in language and how it shapes what and how we think (you’ve all heard the one about Eskimos somewhere up north having over 100 words for snow, right? They have a different, intimate, reverent relationship with snow. All because of the language.). Now that I have a child who has words attached to him like smoke coming out of his head, I REALLY think about what the words mean. And I especially think about what that meaning does to the people around me.
So, I am going to start by saying Please, let’s just shove those Special Needs words back into our mouths. Along with their precursors ‘disability,’, ‘retard,’ ‘mongoloid.’ See what they taste like. See how you feel. First thing, pity. Am I right? Second, relief that it’s not you. Third, a vision of the person with special needs as being something specific. A drag. A burden, perhaps? I mean, it takes them so long to talk and walk and do the stuff we like them to do, how can it not be a major bummer?
I could launch into more on language, citing the feminists’ who’ve looked at the word ‘woman’ and what it means in culture (check Simone de Bouvoir‘s Second Sex and think other) or the people who’ve studied the language that circumscribes race and etc., but I’d be getting a little off course. We all know the dance that language does. There are language “no-no’s” and there are language fads and all of them change the way we think.
Power of Now in the early 1990’s. It sold maybe a couple thousand books, but Oprah got her hands on it and whoa, the world did a little jig on its axis. She did a series of shows with Eckhart and sales went through the roof. After having sold three to five million copies in North America and being deemed “the most popular spiritual writer in the United States,” by a New York Times writer, he now has his own TV show. His message about “transformation of human consciousness,” is being seen, read, iPoded and Webinared (sorry, making all these nouns into verbs – it’s gotta happen) all over the globe. And it’s simple spiritual guidance, really. It’s all about the benefits of being present at each moment without the mind stepping in to interpret and dress up that moment with our own history, neurosis, language, etc. I don’t know if Richard Alpert a.k.a. Ram Dass would have made the charts with his Be Here Now page turner back in ’71, but Tolle has become a phenomenon.
The big question, the ultimate question, is how you do this. And being that I’m rife with my own little cowpokes of neuroses, I’m no expert. But I do think about how language takes us out of the now. Especially when that language is a hot button term. By this, I mean something that elicits a strong emotional reaction: pity, repulsion, fear, rage. You get the drift. Just makes me wonder how people would react to my son if they didn’t have the language that drags. Special Needs, ugh. (Lord knows, I have special needs up the wazoo).
So, if the words fell to the background, would people be more interested? Curious? Find it cool that Cassius goes into rapturous laughter at the simplest, most beautiful things? Maybe they’d look and see him. Just look and see. This is what I want. Because he is different. But aren’t we all different? Those of us that don’t have a label are just better at hiding. Cassius can’t hide. And I don’t want him to. I also don’t want him rendered invisible by a language that diminishes him, quantifies him, makes people go blind.
So please, people, watch the language of the drag. You’re missing out. I can say this because I was one of those people. Still am, probably. But I’ve got one little teacher. His name is Cassius. And I’m happy to have one lesson at a time, one beautiful awakening at a time.