For many disabled people, and often for their families and other allies too, life can feel like being a candle in a hurricane of hate. So much intolerance, vitriol and aggression to deal with every single day from a society that, generally, would rather that disabled people were not around, out of sight, disappeared. Just in the last week or so, I’ve lost count of the number of social media posts, blogs, or conversations I’ve seen or been a part of that have shared how this societal hatred is endemic.
Whether it is the almost routine abuse that disabled people experience when merely trying to live their lives, such as the comments that my friend Dave, a disability campaigner and founder of ‘Disability and Jesus’, faced when visiting his local petrol station to get fuel…
“Ok just had my first bit of abuse from total stranger on garage forecourt about how Boris is going to deal with “all you f…..g disabled scroungers”! Just setting off on 400-mile journey to bury sister in law in morning, didn’t need this.”
… or the day-to-day abuse that Kay, my friend and Co-Founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, gets all the time such as when she is told that “People like you shouldn’t be let out.” See Kay’s excellent article in Christian Today: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/for-disabled-people-experiencing-hate-the-church-offers-little-refuge/132928.htm
It is totally unacceptable that this happens at all, let alone that it happens so often. Whether this hatred comes from a deep seated prejudice or bigotry, whether it is fuelled by a fear of ‘difference’, or whether it is on the rise due to Government policy that has tried to demonise and dehumanise disabled people, it is a national shame on us all that this is allowed to happen in a so-called developed, progressive, liberal country in 2019. As I Tweeted in support of Dave when he mentioned his latest incident of abuse…
“This is a hate crime and it’s happening all the time. Imagine the outcry if the word ‘disabled’ had been ‘black’ or ‘gay’ instead. There’s no difference, it’s all discrimination, it’s all abuse, disabled people should be respected by the wider community, and our politicians, too.”
The more I’ve thought about this, the more that imagery and even song lyrics about candles, light, wind and hurricanes have come to mind. A candle’s flame is a gentle, vulnerable, thing… it casts a light that is beautiful and yet it can be easily blown out. Perhaps that is one way that society sees disabled people, vulnerable, sometimes inspirational when we want them to be, but an easy target too, all too easy to snuff out…
Perhaps society views disabled people a bit like the words to this well-known song, written originally about Marilyn Monroe, then adapted for Diana, Princess of Wales…
“And it seems to me you lived your life. Like a candle in the wind. Never knowing who to cling to. When the rain set in.” Candle In The Wind, by Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Two vulnerable, abused, tragic individuals that the world really didn’t understand. A viewpoint that many can easily attribute to disabled people too, making them an easy target for abuse. But perhaps there are other song lyrics that can cause us to think about disabled people in a different way, a less victim-focussed way… like these…
“I was born in a cross-fire hurricane. And I howled at the morning driving rain. But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas…” Jumping Jack Flash, by The Rolling Stones (written by Keith Richards)
It’s a reference to Keith Richards’ start in life, during the London bombing raids of WWII, but it could so easily also reflect the lives of disabled people too… Perhaps a tough start or some hard moments along the way, maybe some ranting about the challenges that life as a disabled person can sometimes bring, but an acceptance of who they are and a realisation of the positives that their life brings both for them and others… I prefer this analogy every time.
Candles can be vulnerable, but they can also burn brightly, lighting up a room, changing darkness into light. The more candles that burn together, the stronger that light becomes, and the harder it is to ignore. William Brodrick, writer and former monk wrote that…
“We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair, faith and doubt, life and death, all the opposites.”
Maybe together our candles do this, understanding the despair, doubts, and death, yet also showing the way to hope, faith and life; gaining strength together, showing the direction, leading the way, bringing about change. And we don’t walk that path alone. Those of us with a faith see that there is a path already illuminated for us to follow, a path that is prepared for us…
“Your word is like a lamp that shows me the way. It is like a light that guides me.” Psalm 119:105
…and he that provides and illuminates that path walks with us. He is at our side, encouraging us to press on, leading us forward, keeping our light burning brightly.
Jesus spoke to the people again. He said, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in darkness. They will have that light. They will have life.” John 8:12
So, let us all keep on keeping on, demanding change, leading change, being a light to the world that gets brighter the more of us join in, and knowing that the light of the world himself is with us.
Does this mean that the hate and abuse will stop? No, it will probably always be there, but the more we shine, the more we campaign, the more we call out the hatred and abuse for what it is, the more society will notice, the more hope we will bring, and maybe the day will come when we can all say together “It’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas…”
4th August 2019
Image rights: Free pictures
I Too Have A Dream