In recent years, the “R-Word” has been replaced with the world “Intellectual Disability”, and a campaign to raise awareness followed. Read more here.
“Oh, for goodness sakes,” I’ve heard people say, “isn’t it all just a matter of semantics? Don’t be so sensitive.”
This story, from the archives, tells one reason to be *more* sensitive:
Matthew is a huge Beatles fan and asked me if we could go to the music store to buy a Revolver CD. He was wearing plaid shorts, a different patterned plaid shirt, white socks and work boots.
“You might want to change your shirt,” I said. “Your plaid shorts would look even better with a plain shirt.”
“I look good,” he replied, “and we’re not going to talk about it anymore.”
When we entered the store, Matthew saw an entire rack dedicated to Beatles music, and ran over to it exuberantly, bumping into another customer-hard.
He apologized profusely as the customer shook his head.
“What are you,” the customer yelled “a retard or something?”
“I give up,” Matthew replied passively.
I guided Matthew to the cash register, careful not to make eye contact with the irate customer. Matthew has always been socially awkward, and while I’m well practiced at unfortunate public scenes like these, they still upset me. I was grateful that at least this time, Matthew seemed oblivious to the conflict.
As we drove away with his music, I convinced myself that Matthew didn’t know that the guy at the music store had insulted him. I shared the story my family, and they laughed.
“Thank God he didn’t get it,” they said.
But when I put my head on my pillow later that night, I knew that on some level Matthew did get it. God only knows how many times he has heard the “R” word.
I thought back to the time when I was a teenager, and I laughed at a weird boy at summer camp who was walking funny, rocking and flapping his hands. The boy’s brother, who was also at the camp, saw me laughing and glared at me, deeply hurt.
I’ll never forget it.
I’ll bet that as soon as that guy at the music store blurted out that awful phrase, he realized that the woman with Matthew was his mother. He would have apologized if he had the chance.
I’ve already forgiven him.
Do you have an “R” Word story?