How easily is our humanity stripped away! There but for the grace of Vishnu…
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I always had to translate my little brother and sister’s words for my parents. Growing up with them, I learned their language much better than Mom and Dad. Their tongues which were too large for their mouthes and their mental retardation prevented them from speaking as well as other children their age. My name was “Duhn’thin” for years. My brother or sister would say something and a blank look would cover my parents’ faces. I’d chime in with what they had said, and life would go on.
Their language was unintelligible to outsiders. I learned this when some neighborhood kids mimicked what they heard my sister say. “Duh, duh, duh,” they taunted her. I loved her and it hurt to see her mocked, but I didn’t want to be dumb by association. I stood by and left my sister undefended.
Years later in high school, I had a chance to redeem myself. I stood outside the locker room when one of the short school buses pulled up. I was looking somewhere else when I heard one of the guys yell “Dog! Ugly!” I turned around to see that my sister was the target of this attack. She attended the same school as I did; she had been mainstreamed as they called it. Redemption would have to wait for another day. The situation stunned me into inaction. I was too ashamed of my sister to stand up and defend her.
To this day, when I hear people say offhandedly “that’s retarded” it feels like an attack on my brother and sister, but I don’t say anything. How do I explain without seeming too thin-skinned?
Even though I loved my brother and sister, I often wished that they weren’t retarded. I wished that they could have been normal. Mormonism holds out that hope. It teaches that mentally retarded children were especially valiant champions in God’s cause during our existence before we were born. As perfect innocents, they are assured of their salvation and exaltation in God’s Kingdom when they die.
As a corollary, I would someday meet my brother and sister without the false burden of mental retardation. I have daydreamed all my life about the day that I would meet them and be able to have a normal conversation. I imagined how they would look: normal at last. They wouldn’t make people feel uncomfortable anymore. They wouldn’t embarrass me anymore. I would be proud to be their brother.
Maybe you can understand why it is heartbreaking for me to give up that hope. I now realize that there is no immaculate soul hidden inside my siblings, untainted by retardation. When they die, no sparkling gem will ascend to heaven. The retardation isn’t the illusion. My little brother and sister are retarded.
Instead of loving my brother and sister as they truly are, I have been hoping to meet someone who doesn’t exist. I have been ashamed of their true selves. I will never be able to talk to them, except in our shared language.