Wednesday Words: Standing Crooked, Seeing Straight

Why do people tilt their heads when they are trying to examine something closely?  Funny, huh?  Seems like you’d want to look at something square on.

There’s a word in Korean “삐딱이”, or bbiddaki (I think I’m slaughtering the Romanization, my apologies, but this is what you get for reading the writing of someone who never had any formal Korean schooling), I’ve heard it translated as rebel, but my mom says it is closer to sarcastic.   I think a very literal translation would be one who stands crookedly.

I recently came across a saying that uses this word: “삐딱이만 삐둘어진 세상을 제데로 볼수있다.”  My very, very rough translation goes something like, Only one who stands crooked can see the true crooked nature of the world.

I’ve been chewing this over for a while, and I think my peeps are onto something.

When we started figuring out that LP had Down syndrome, the world really did tilt for us.  Or, rather, we tilted.  Hard.  From his perspective, all he did was leave my belly, eat, sleep, poop and try to do his thing.  From our perspective?  The entire world as we knew it changed in about three days’ time.  Not that we aren’t always changing, but that one was an earth-shaking kind of big.  I sometimes try to remember who I even was before the diagnosis, and it is near impossible.  I try, but that person is foreign to me now.

I’ve mulled over that period in our lives (as I suspect I will continue to do for the rest of my life), and while I do remember a lot of anguish and crying, I also remember that after that first storm was a beautiful calm.  I had a strange sense of peace that I could not explain.  Each time I tried people kind of looked at me like I was close to a psychotic break, even though nothing was further from the truth.  So I stopped trying to explain it, but it didn’t make it any less real.

I’d stood crooked.

Maybe not a rebel, because I never chose to have Down syndrome enter into our lives, but I did suddenly find myself off the beaten path.  I found myself looking at the world, really carefully, tilting my head.  Crooked.

What did I see?  A world that had created such a narrow passage to human worth, so narrow that most people couldn’t pass.  A world where human beings were trampling over each other to get through that impossible passage.  Creating hierarchies of beauty, intelligence, and ability that serve no one.

It isn’t the first time I’ve tilted my head at the world, and hopefully won’t be the last.  I think at the heart of privilege, no matter what the basis, is that it is near impossible to see the distortions that cause inequity in the world.  It is important though, whether by chance or through intent, to stand crookedly.

Maybe this means throwing privilege away.  Maybe this means reacting to life’s “negative” experiences by leaning in, rather than running away.  Maybe this simply means being open to life’s hurt rather than hardening my heart, because at the end, I might look back and realize that it wasn’t hurt to begin with at all.  Just a chance to tilt my head, stand crooked, but see straight.

Mouse, in Korea, last year.

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Something to think about.

Even though I just posted this about needing a personal growth vacation, it didn’t seem right to let this go…

“The hardest thing about having an intellectual disability is the loneliness […] We are aware when all the rest of you stop and just look at us. We are aware when you look at us and just say, ‘unh huh,’ and then move on, talking to each other. You mean no harm, but you have no idea how alone we feel even when we are with you.” “So, what’s wrong with ‘retard’?,” he asked. “I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the ‘in’ group. We are someone that is not your kind.”

This is a part of an opinion piece in the NYTimes about the word “retard”.  The quote is from a man named John Franklin Stephens.  He has Down Syndrome.  Maybe LP will grow up one day and speak out as eloquently as this man did.

He shouldn’t have to though.