Friends:

Well, I am sure you were expecting some commentary on the Zimmerman verdict, especially in light of my commentary on the Casey Anthony verdict; however I simply don’t have the energy to address all of the issues and the myriad of thoughts that are going through my mind, both as an attorney and as a parent.  Regardless of whether you believe that the verdict was a symbol or a travesty of justice, I am sure that everyone will agree that the entire episode was a tragedy, and one which could have been and should have been avoided.  If anything, as parents we have a responsibility to use this tragedy as a learning tool.

And speaking of learning tools…

My wife and I took our daughters to the Aquarium of the Pacific this weekend and while we were there we saw a little girl, probably my older daughter’s age, who was handicapped and walking with a walker which supported her back and arms.  She had braces on the lower parts of her legs and clearly had difficulty walking.  At one point Brooklyn mentioned to me something about the little girl and I asked her if she wanted to go say hello to her.  Kind of odd, I agree, for a kid to just out of the blue go say hello to another kid, but I wanted Brooklyn to know that just because the other girl walked differently and had a strange looking contraption assisting her, it didn’t mean that she was someone to shy away from or be afraid of.  I certainly remember being Brooklyn’s age and being afraid of people in wheelchairs so I wanted Brooklyn to know that there was no reason to be afraid of a little girl.

It’s at times like these that I as the adult try to remember how I was when I was a kid- was I sensitive to people who had disabilities?  I seem to remember my elementary school having a special education class, but whether there was a lot of interaction with the children with special needs I don’t recall.  But on the occasions when those interactions did take place, how did I do?

The other night I was flipping the channels after the Dodger game had ended and came upon a documentary on HBO called “Miss You Can Do It” which chronicled a beauty pageant for girls and women with special needs, everything from cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and other challenges.  My wife and I were riveted; how can you honestly turn off a film that shows girls our daughter’s age with severe challenges who are putting on makeup and getting their hair done and being treated like the beautiful people that they are?  You could see how excited the participants were to be there, how much they had been looking forward to the pageant and how, for one weekend at least, they didn’t feel different. 

So many thoughts ran through my mind as I watched the film.  Amongst them were extreme sadness for the girls who surely have a tough road ahead of them, a lifetime of doctors, askance looks and hardship; compassion for the parents who have in many situations had to give up their lives to care for their girls; and immense wonder and admiration for the pageant’s judges and administrators, the people who put the pageant together and give so selflessly so that these girls can forget their disabilities and challenges, even for one weekend, and have fun and be treated as the beautiful people they are.

Unfortunately, another thought that ran through my mind, is one that I am ashamed of—the thought was one of gladness that it wasn’t me and my girls on that show.  Is that selfish?  Is it wrong?  After the film was over I immediately wanted to go to my girls’ rooms and wake them up and give them a hug and thank whatever being is out there for giving me such healthy and beautiful girls.  It’s one of those things that you cannot help but feel when tragedy befalls someone else—it’s the “Thank God it wasn’t me” feeling and on me it felt shameful.

So when I saw the girl at the Aquarium on Saturday, I couldn’t help but think back to the HBO film and the beauty that those pageant participants radiated and my own sense of shame at feeling such gratitude.  And I figured that the only way to combat my own feelings was to show my girls that the disabilities and challenges of others are not to be feared or discomfited by.  Because so much of our discomfort is due to our own ignorance of the challenges that other people face.  We tend to mock what we don’t understand, especially when we are kids because our knowledge is so limited.  I remember feeling uncomfortable around children with special needs when I was a kid, I admit it.  I was a child, I was ignorant and I knew no better.

I don’t want my girls to feel the same way.  I want them to know that all people have feelings and all people are special and all people want to feel special.  They may be too young to understand it now, but in a few years I hope I remember to find the HBO film to show to them so that they understand better.  In the meantime, I can only hope to show them, when we see or interact with people who have disabilities or challenges, that they are special people and they need to be treated with compassion and sensitivity. 

We as parents sometimes fail to realize the immense responsibility we have to teach our children those life lessons that don’t come from a textbook.  Adding and subtracting, subjects and predicates, those are all well and good.  But if our children are not kind and caring and sensitive to the plight of others, then they won’t be well-rounded individuals.

Have a great week and if you want more information on the pageant, go to http://missyoucandoit.com and grab your tissues.

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