I can’t talk to many people about this, and you are such a sympathetic listener that I wanted to share with you what’s on my heart.
Last night I spoke before the Scotland County Junior Service League and was thrilled at the reception. They said if we really get a day center for retarded children started in our county, they would eventually take over the support of it.
You know, Mother, I’m not really a leader at all and when I find myself suddenly thrust into positions of leadership, I want to go hide. I know that if I do take it, I have to do it right. I just feel totally unequal to the huge task of starting a day center, and now that I have succeeded in getting the public support and backing, I wish some miracle wold drop the right kind of person to take over from here on out. We got a $1,000 check from the United Fund. The director announced last night, “No cause on our list moved us more deeply than Mrs. Buie’s plea for retarded children. We are unable this year to give the organization the full amount requested but we hope very much she will ask us again next year and that we can support the cause to the hilt.”
I had planned to end my talk last night with a “Prayer for Retarded Children” written by the editor of Children Limited, but somehow when the time came it just didn’t seem what I wanted. It’s a beautiful poem but definitely has a note of heartbreak which I didn’t want to end on, so I prayed inwardly for the right words to be put in my mouth, and I think they were because I suddenly realized when I sat down there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Here’s what was given to me by inspiration to say:
Our slogan for National Retarded Children’s Week is “Give thanks by giving to help the retarded child.” To you who are parents of normal children, that means gratitude for the health of those children and I’m sure from the warmth of your hearts you give gladly to those less fortunate. To those of us who are parents of a retarded child, it has a different meaning but we too give thanks – thanks – thanks for the interest shown by a group like you here tonight, thanks for the awakening of the public to its responsibility to retarded children, the desire to give our children the same rights as other children – to an education within the limits of their abilities, and to their own small place in the world.
And then, last, we give a more special thanks to the retarded child himself for the very special gifts he has brought in his own special way. Somehow our love for our own children is a kind of extension of self-love – we bask in reflected glory for all the A report cards, scout awards, beauty contests. Sometimes we demand that our children compensate for all the things we were ambitious to do and somehow didn’t. But the love we bear a retarded child is a selfless love, knowing that we can expect nothing in return and yet, perhaps we receive through him the most precious gifts of life. Because we love a retarded child, we are given a greater love for all humanity. Because we love a retarded child, we are given deeper compassion for all suffering and more inspired motivation to act in our small way to alleviate it. And because we love a retarded child, God in His mysterious way, through the hands of a little child, has led us out of the dark paths of self-pity, resentment and heartbreak into the greater light of understanding what our Master meant when He said: “In as much as you do it to the least of these, my brethren, you do it also unto me.”
I hadn’t planned to say that, so I feel sure that the words were “put” in my mouth, because they struck such a response. A woman came up afterwards to tell me what a wonderful talk it was and how she admired what I was doing. She didn’t tell me until later, in private, that she is the mother of a mongoloid little girl Johnjon’s age. She is just a grand person, but she has never talked about the child even to her closest friends or admitted outside the family that there’s anything wrong. They live out from town, and people seldom see her daughter. I have an idea that her daughter is trainable and educable. She talks and feeds herself, and is not nearly so under-sized as Johnjon is. If her mother could just accept her daughter as she is and for what she is, all the bottled-up heartache and resentment would melt away, and I bet the daughter would do better, too.