We know in theory that courage (the Theme of the Month) takes many forms, yet sometimes it can be hard to imagine ourselves acting courageously. We may discount things we do or say as a courageous act because we don’t view ourselves as courageous. For many, courage is about pushing past our own inner barriers and resistance and being uncomfortable. Courage can also take the form of risking someone else’s discomfort.
For a long time, I’ve been thinking about comfort and people with disabilities and how it intersects with courage. My mother used a wheelchair for many years due to having multiple sclerosis, so my sensitivity is high about physical accessibility for wheelchair users. My mother was courageous for her willingness to risk her own comfort as well as that of others as she invited them to think differently about physical accessibility.
After I moved her to be closer to me in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where I served as the minister, she made it clear that she wanted to attend my church and become a member. The problem was the 19th century church building with the sanctuary was not accessible. For years members had talked about building a ramp, along with building codes, permits, and costs. But nothing was done. Nevertheless, my mother was willing to have her chair dragged up the front steps every Sunday by compassionate and dedicated members so she could attend worship. She never complained; it was not her style to complain. Yet, I could see the discomfort in the faces of church members.
After about five months of this, the discomfort hit a tipping point with members when one of them stood up at the annual meeting and declared that he was going to build a ramp next weekend, was willing to pay for it, and asked people to show up to help. The ramp took two weekends; many contributed to its rather low cost, including my mother and my family. It is still there today, used by many beloved members and visitors as a main access point. There is a plaque on it dedicated to my mother, with the words “Because we all need friends.” And no, no permit was acquired, and the city didn’t seem to care.
Over the past year, I’ve witnessed an increasingly willingness of people with disabilities to risk making other people uncomfortable in order to raise awareness of physical, language, and mental barriers to full inclusion. Their courage will always fill my heart with love and appreciation, as well as push my own acts of courage.
To that end, I’m going to start describing what I look like when I am speaking on Sunday mornings, so people with visual disabilities can picture me. I may feel uncomfortable doing this, but that’s only because of my own internal barrier to feeling silly. I can easily summon my courage for that gentle act of full inclusion.
In what ways can you help people with disabilities feel fully included? It does not take much courage.
With courageous love, Rev. Kate
Please keep community Maddy Izzo in your thoughts and prayers as her father is in his last stages of life.
Please hold the daughter of Jane Ann Williams in your thoughts and prayers as her daughter faces surgery today.
If you have joys or sorrows you would like to share with the community, please send them to me, firstname.lastname@example.org