It only matters when it’s you

“…I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you.” 1 Tim 1:4

When I was very young, my grandmother still lived in the house where my dad had grown up, and we usually visited her on Sunday afternoons. During many of those visits, my mother would take me across the street with her to see a neighbor, another grandmother, whose sons had played with my dad and his brothers when they were children.

The neighbor had a grown son who lived with her, a man who had cerebral palsy.

Our visits across the street usually included some time with this man. My memory is that he was always sitting in a chair in his bedroom, and my mother would sit in a chair next to his, while I stood nearby.

No one in my family had such a disability and therefore I was unfamiliar with his jerky movements and indecipherable speech patterns. My mother, though, seemed quite comfortable spending time with him. She seemed not to notice his twisted body and she seemed to understand what he was saying. She conversed with him as she did with everyone else. It was a mystery to me and I was fascinated by it.

As time went by, I grew more comfortable visiting this man, although I was always just a bit hesitant in his presence.

By the time I was eight years old, my grandmother had moved to the suburbs. Our visits to the old neighborhood became less frequent and eventually stopped.

I recently had dinner with a women who grew up across the street from my grandmother, a woman I had not seen in more than forty years. It was her grandmother that lived across the street from mine and her uncle who had cerebral palsy.

As I shared my memory of visiting her grandmother and uncle, I had an “aha” moment.

Early on in my career working with people who had disabilities, a co-worker used the phrase, “It only matters when it’s you.” I thought it a bit harsh, and I also understood it. Something in our human nature seems to cause us to care more about what directly affects us. My co-worker was talking about the challenge of connecting people who have disabilities with community members who have no prior experience.

Most of the people I worked with were the parents or siblings of people who had disabilities. That was not my story, and yet I was passionate about my work.

Talking with the niece of this man my mother and I used to visit opened my eyes; he was my connection. My mother had been teaching me by her example. He mattered to her; I had watched and learned.

6 thoughts on “It only matters when it’s you

  1. annemarielom

    When I am personally involved, my attitudes change. I think Pope Francis is asking us to leave the culture of indifference and get personally involved. You say it well, Madeline.

  2. michelebaldwin46

    What a great “Aha” moment! Realizing a “gift” you mother gave you so long ago; and maybe a deeper understanding of where your passion for this work–as well as your “compassion” comes from.

  3. Jane banik

    Your blog reminds me of my weekly time at the hospice for women who had A.I.D.S. I grew to look forward to my time with them and the Missionarues of Charity. And my comfort level and love for these women grew. I so miss these times even though I continue to prepare meals for the shelter women since the hospice service no longer exists. I need to feel that connection again

    1. Madeline Bialecki Post author

      Thanks, Jane. What I realized (at some point) about my relationships with people who had disabilities is that I needed them for my healing (as you say you need that connection). For me, I think it was about the unconditional acceptance I felt in my relationships with people who had disabilities. I think of the vulnerability of people who have AIDS; perhaps that is what they touched (and healed) in you?


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