Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Simple Truth

Now here is my secret.  It is very simple.
It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

I don't remember much about 3rd grade except my teacher's name, Mrs. Johnson, and the black top play ground where we played four-square.  But there is one day that will be forever be cemented in my memory.  It was the day Mrs. Johnson was teaching us about government.  During her lecture she told the class, "Puerto Ricans move to the United States to collect welfare."  My little 3rd grade head was in shock.  We had just learned what welfare was and I was pretty certain no Puerto Ricans I knew were collecting it. I also knew in my heart that Mrs. Johnson did not mean this to be a compliment.  She was suggesting that Puerto Ricans were” less than”, undesirable, a burden and unwelcome.  It was clear to my little 3rd grade self that my teacher did not like Puerto Ricans and I was sad, very sad.

I need to share one more thing about myself.  My father is of German Irish decent and my mother is from Puerto Rico.  I have lots and lots of lovely family living in Puerto Rico.  Before this day I was completely unaware that anyone would see me, my mom or anyone in my family as bad, undesirable people.  This was the day that I learned what racism and prejudice was and what it felt like.  And it felt like a punch in the stomach.  My view of my life, my family and my world were forever changed.
Now fast forward this story to yesterday and a phone call from a friend and a story about a conversation which included an unfair (and untrue) assessment of Ben and his diabetes.  Then, Wallop!  I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, again.  Ben and his T1 for the first time had been referred to as being “less than” and undesirable.   And a warning was made that Ben would be a burden.

This unfair assessment of Ben really should not have been such a shock.  Over the past three years I had heard stories about T1 prejudice, but they were only stories.  I had been living in my naive world where those stories were other people’s stories not our story.  I had read about and met people who chose to keep their diagnosis a secret.  And I naively believed we would never choose to live that way.  But now, today, I finally KNOW why people make that choice.

I have spent the last few days trying to decide where to go from here.  Have I made a horrible mistake by sharing too much here on this blog?  Should I just draw the curtains, shut our doors and keep Ben’s T1 a secret?  Or should I bust down doors screaming about the injustice?
Then I remembered my young third grade self.  I remembered the last time I felt that punch in the stomach.  And I remembered how my brave little girl self handled that confusion and pain.

That day, the day Mrs. Johnson made her statement about Puerto Ricans and welfare, after school I told my mom what my teacher had told the class and asked her if it was true.  And my mom, with her Puerto Rican finger waving in the air, told me, "That is not true! You go tell Mrs. Johnson that Puerto Ricans can collect welfare in Puerto Rico!  They do not need to come to the states for that!"  And that is exactly what I did. The next day when Mrs. Johnson started her government lesson I raised my hand.  She called on me and I stood up at my desk and with a classroom full of eyes staring at me I told my teacher she was wrong the day before.  I told her, "Puerto Ricans do not need to come to the United States to collect welfare.  Puerto Ricans can collect welfare in Puerto Rico."  After I made my statement she asked me to sit down and told me we were discussing the congress today.  But I was satisfied because I knew I had spoken the truth (and I was right).

Can I do that again?  I hope I can be that brave again and let the simple truth speak for itself.  Ben is a young boy who faces more challenges in one single day than most people can imagine.  And he faces each challenge with complete grace.  Ben is not “less than”.  He is not weak or a burden.  Ben is “more than”!  He is stronger than anyone I know.

But this time there is no classroom I can raise my hand in and make the clear statement, "You are wrong.  Ben can do anything!"  So for now, maybe all we can really do is to just let Ben prove them all wrong.  And in my heart, I know he can and he will.


  1. Yes, let Ben prove them wrong, because he can and he will. But also, continue to bust down doors screaming about the injustice, on the blog and elsewhere.

    You can respond to one injustice with a polite (or not so polite) correction, or you can make waves so that word spreads like wildfire and they don't happen to begin with. Nothing wrong with making waves.

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words ... They mean the world to me

  2. I love this story---when little you tells the teacher Puerto Ricans can get welfare without leaving PR! Ha!

    But I can't imagine what someone said about Ben/all of our kids.
    Unless it was some kind of too much junk food/deserves it thing. Which would be just so idiotic.

    I'm sorry this happened. I agree--'Ben is “more than”!'

    1. Imagine this ...our boys trying out for a play and the director considering whether its worth including our T1 boys because they may be too much work

    2. nauseating. Does someone like that even have the capacity to understand? I hope Ben doesn't feel/hear/see that at school. He will prove them wrong!

  3. wow.

    but that is just a dumb person, right? not a general thing that happens---is it?

    what's the extra work part of someone else's diabetes for the director?

    1. This conversation happened when we were not around to properly explain/defend Ben ... And all I can really assume is this likely is not the first time someone felt this way nor will it be last ... Makes me sad and angry all at the same time