Essay. Safety Pin World.


Please read this. Nothing will change for the better unless we do.

I was a curious child. When I was about four, we took my grandmother to the city to catch a bus after she visited us. Three magnificent penguin ladies in white and black got off a bus and I ran for my mother to show them to her. The nuns in traditional habit (this was the early 1960s) were apparently not amused. That was about the same time I was told it was not polite to ask my grandmother why she put her teeth (dentures) in a glass in the sink every night.

I think curiosity is wonderful, but we too often assume differences in appearance or behavior mean we are different as people. I can only know what a person is like from talking with them, observing their body language and watching how they treat others.

After the head injury that ended my medical internship, doctors did not look at me in the same way. I had to earn respect instead of it being freely given. A few chatted with me, but more were put off that I had seizures, a brain injury and was disabled but spoke like them.

I wrote recently that all people should have the same first chance to make an impression: We may miss so much because we do not give someone a chance or we may assume we have something essential in common with someone who is nothing like us in their heart.

I have seen people discounted because of their skin color, education, degree of articulateness in how they speak, religion, sex, gender, sexuality, medical conditions and disabilities, sports team loyalties. You may laugh at sports team, for why should it say anything about a person’s worth, but then, what does skin color, tattoos or body jewelry, or gender?

The only person I know who truly does not see appearance is my son. Joseph is 21. When I turned 21, I had started medical school. He was changing his mind every hour whether he wanted Pokemon or Frozen as a cake theme. Joseph has autism, amidst a depressingly large number of other medical conditions.

But Joseph thinks everyone may be his next friend. He might shove his new stuffed bear on your face in his enthusiasm, but he would want you to see it and share his delight. Last week we walked in our local mall after eating there. He said hello to a couple who were probably about his age and asked them their favorite movie. They looked startled first, then friendly, and said “Star Wars.”

As we went down the mall, his desire for interaction had him coming up to various strangers of different ages, telling them his name and asking theirs, or asking why their toddler cried and could he help? One young woman at a kiosk of cosmetics looked anxious at his height and shuffling walk but beamed when he asked her name. It was Russian, and she spoke with a delightful Eastern European accent. When we walked back up the mall, she waved at us and a mother who had been struggling with a toddler and baby smiled deliberately at Joseph and at us as the chaperoning parents.

I do not care about your appearance, your language, or anything else that is superficial. I care about you.

In Britain, in the wake of some racial unrest after the vote to leave the European Union, a woman asked people to wear a safety pin on their shirts or jackets if they wanted to be part of a safety net for their neighbors, regardless of race, religion, country of origin… a statement and a pledge of action.

I am going to wear a safety pin, and I ask you to consider doing the same. If you feel uncomfortable or need help or someone with you needs assistance, I will help or try to find someone who can. Whether you wear a pin or not or even know what a safety pin is, please do the same.

The loveliest long chat I ever had at that mall was with a young security guard while I was in a wheelchair waiting for my husband and son to finish the walk that was supposed to tire Joseph enough he could sleep. It turned out we had similar interest in local history.

I felt uncomfortable looking up at him standing there, but got past it. He was much younger and abler than I and African-American while my ancestors came from Britain and Germany, but none of that mattered. I wish I had told him my last thought before leaving, that I would have been proud if he were my son.

There will be no peace on Earth unless we bring a little of it to our corners of the world every day. There is too much mistrust, hate, and violence. More of any of those will not help. Reflexive defensiveness, even when merited, will not help.

We do not have to be extraordinary to do extraordinary things when we do them together. Stand with me. Share this essay and talk about it, regardless of whether you live in my country (the USA) or somewhere else. If anything should go viral, this is it.

By the way, Ma put her dentures in the sink overnight to clean them. I figured that out when I had braces, then a retainer, and I periodically cleaned the retainer in a glass in the sink. We have so much more in common than what divides us. We just need that truth lovingly shoved on our faces sometimes.

If you are on Facebook, like our page and join a community of people who are trying to find healing balance of physical, mental, and spiritual health, a balance that can not only help us heal, but our families, communities, and world. If I can help, write me. Thank you.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c)

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