Saturday, August 23, 2014

Spread the word

Rosemary Kennedy was the first sister of former President John F. Kennedy. Although physically attractive, she was considered to be psychologically unstable by her family, and she became subject to violent mood swings as she grew older. When she was 23 years old, her father (Joseph Kennedy) asked doctors to perform a new procedure on her called a frontal lobotomy in order to calm her mood swings. The surgery was not successful, but it diminished the mental capacity of Kennedy to that of a 2 year old child. She lived the rest of her life in various mental institutions, and died of natural causes at the age of 86.

Inspired, at least in part, by the experience of her sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the first Special Olympics in 1968, so that individuals with mental and/or physical disabilities would have the ability to compete in athletic competitions on somewhat the same basis as “normal kids”. The organization has grown substantially since its inception, and now provides training and competitions to more than 4.2 million athletes in 170 countries.

Even though the Special Olympics helped to create a more favorable image for persons with disabilities, it wasn’t until the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1989 that formal programs for persons with disabilities were established, and a few years later, the “inclusion” of disabled students within “normal” classrooms started to become more common.

There are a variety of conditions that would be considered “disabilities”, but the most common ones are Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism. Regardless of the specific malady, though, individuals with mental (and sometimes physical) disabilities were considered “retarded” in the past, and some still are today.

The word (fortunately) has become politically incorrect, but it hasn’t stopped people like extreme right wing conservatives Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh from freely using it in conversation. Their lack of compassion, unfortunately, is becoming more common in the Grand Old Party, and the recent protests of immigrant children in Murietta, California is just one example of how some members of our society are straying a bit too far from the Biblical principals of compassion and justice.

In an effort to stop the use of the term “retarded”, the Special Olympics of 2013 developed a simple phrase called “spread the word - end the word”. In order to facilitate the message, the organization also started a website to allow people to share their stories about working with disabled children:

the r-word

The “mission statement” of the r-word campaign can be summed up as follows:

“Recognizing that our choice of language frames how we think of others, we, the undersigned, pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech, and promote the acceptance and inclusion of of people with intellectual disabilities. “

Today’s treatment of persons with disabilities is significantly more humane than the practices that existed during the period of time when eugenics was more popular in our country, and other countries in the world. The core philosophy of eugenics was the promotion of higher reproduction rates of people with desired traits, and reduced reproduction of people with less-desired or undesired traits. Eventually, the philosophy resulted in the establishment of the Mother’s Cross in Germany in 1938, which honored German women who gave birth to at least 5 children, but it also led to compulsory sterilizations of those considered to be less desirable.

In its most extreme form, the practice of eugenics became the Nazi T4 program, which began as the systematic killing of children deemed “mentally defective”. Public outrage killed the program in Germany on August 18, 1941, but it was later revived in occupied Poland.

All of us see people with disabilities on a fairly regular basis, and my wife and I (due to the fact that we work for the local school district) have daily exposure to students with “disabilities”. As a result of that exposure, we consider ourselves to be blessed, due to the fact that we work with truly unique individuals, and (in our limited capacities) make a difference in their lives.

If you're interested in making a financial contribution to the Special Olympics, local Safeway stores allow you to make a contribution on the key pad used to pay your grocery bill. The "grand daddy" of all charitable fund raising events, though, is the Labor Day Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy, which Jerry Lewis hosted from 1952 through 2010. As of 2014, MDA telethons had raised $2.6 billion for the organization. Although you can make a contribution to the organization on line, local fire departments also do fund raising on Labor Day weekend.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The bridges of Madison County

Flagstaff, Arizona is a LONG way from Winterset, Iowa (the birthplace of Marion Morrison/John Wayne), so it’s always a little startling to see references to his home town in the area where I live. If you took the most direct route from Winterset, your trip would total 1336 miles, a good solid 2 day drive.

At lease half a dozen times a year, I’ll see a semi-truck/trailer combination parked in the village where I live. Emblazoned on the back door is a sign promoting the covered bridge festival in Madison Country (Winterset is the county seat) which is held the 2nd weekend in October every year.

34 of our 50 states still have some of their original covered bridges still standing, and the list of their locations can be viewed at the link below:

Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Vermont seem to have a preponderance of them, but even my home state of Minnesota still has ONE standing. If you include non-authentic (replica) bridges, then every state in the Union has at least one.

After we saw Clint Eastwood’s 1995 movie depicting the brief affair between Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) and Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) , Sharon and I decided that it would be fun to take a side trip to Winterset on our way back from Minnesota to Illinois.

Winterset is roughly 30 miles south east of Des Moines, and wasn’t difficult to find. Once we had found Roseman bridge, we then managed to find Francesca’s farmhouse, which still stands today, and is open for tours.

The kitchen still looks like it did when we took our own tour in the late 1990’s, and so does the bathtub that Francesca and Robert sat in together. If I looked hard enough, I could probably find the picture of ME sitting in the bathtub (fully clothed) but that‘s a project best saved for full retirement.

Most of the locations used in the movie are still standing, and can be viewed at the link below:

walk in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood

It’s unlikely that Sharon and I will ever get back to Madison County, or to the Covered Bridge festival, but I’ve got a feeling that some of our friends and relatives living in Minnesota might make a trip there at some point in the future.

One of the most memorable lines in the movie (involving eggs and linoleum) briefly earned the movie an “R” rating, which was later reduced to PG-13. However, another one of the lines in the movie is a good life lesson for all of us:

“The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out, but I’m glad I had them.”