Monday, September 22, 2008

Dates & Disabilities

Is it possible that this can happen today?

It is inconceivable to me that in a world where we understand the meaning of kindness, of sweetness, of what it means to care for and love another human being, we could so coldly hurt the feelings of a male or female, dismissing them for something that is not their fault, and which does not detract from their ability to be a fit or capable parent.

I have become aware of something which disturbs me greatly. It is that within this great realm of dates, there is a group of people, a sub-strata, which is dismissed almost immediately. This group of people has done nothing wrong; they are not evil people, and they have done no harm. However, for whatever reason, and through no fault of their own, they have a physical disability. Perhaps there is a height difference between one leg and the other. Perhaps they are blind, or will be blind when they grow older. Perhaps they are deaf, or perhaps they cannot walk without the assistance of a cane. Perhaps they cannot even walk at all. This disability can range from something very minor, a club foot, a disfigured hand or finger- to something major. But no matter what it is, those who have or suffer a disability find themselves in the same category of people- those who are rejected immediately, without having been considered, without anyone taking the time to know them or their story.

I am not telling someone that it is their obligation to sign up for something they cannot handle. There are some people who cannot conceive of having a partner who is in any way physically disabled, and that is fine. No one states that you must marry a person out of charity or pity; indeed, that would be awful- the other person would not want such pity. But to immediately dismiss a person, to assume you know her and all that she has faced- this implies cruelty. If you have not met the person, how would you know what she is like? How can you know whether the difference between one leg and the other, or the fact that she will one day not be able to hear or see, means immediately that she is not for you? Are you even interested in the story behind this disability? Often, these people have miraculous, incredible stories. They have survived life-threatening illnesses, cancer perhaps- and this physical disability is all that is left to them, their only scar. Or perhaps, they were born with this disability, and have learned to cope with it, to make up for it. But what is clear in every case is that anyone who is born with what is seen as a disadvantage becomes a uniquely special person because of it. Their outlook on life is decidedly different. Because these are people who were made to fight. They were born different, or were made different, and their spirit has grown accordingly. They have been tested. These are women and men whom one wants as partners, people who have faced challenge and who have grown because of it, whose hearts and souls have been broadened and opened. And yet, these are people who are shunted mercilessly to the side.

Can you imagine how it hurts to be thrust aside so easily? A person has not even met you, but they have dismissed you because of your physical appearance or a disability- they know nothing of who you are, what you are, the essence of who you are as a human being- but already, you are viewed as being a failure, a nonentity. How can you do this to a person? If you know from the outset that it is impossible, then I understand. But if you have never met the person, if you do not know how they compensate for their disability, their personal story and all that colors it, then how can you push them aside so easily? Does everything else mean so little to you?

Do you know what is even more hurtful? When this population of people is informed they will never be sought after by the "normal" crowd; instead, they must marry each other. One person who cannot hear well must marry another; one person who is physically disabled and finds it hard to walk must look for such a person as well. Did you ever hear the like? And what happened, may I ask you, to the beauty of a person's soul, of her spirit, of everything that she is? What even to the beauty of her body? These are beautiful girls, and yet they are dismissed because of one small attribute! How can this be? And how can we be living in a generation of men who feel themselves to be benei Torah and yet see no harm in their actions? Again, I do not say that everyone must force themselves to raise the hopes of a person if they really believe there can be no future with her. But I cannot believe there is nobody who believes they can live happily with a physically disabled person?

There is a woman who is extraordinarily important in my life, who has done remarkable things, and raised an incredible family. She does chesed for her entire community, most of it unnoted. Whenever women give birth and are in the hospital, she cooks enough for an army and sends it off to the family of the newly-delivered mother. She counsels couples who need her advice. She is a listening ear like no other. People do not know the half of what she does and what she juggles. Her love for her family is sincere and real. And yet, she cannot use one arm. Everything she does, she does with only one arm- with one hand. Everything. Imagine taking a shower and only being able to shampoo your hair or soap yourself with one hand because you cannot move the other arm. Imagine cooking for hundreds of people, mixing everything together and tossing in ingredients- with one hand. Now imagine that you are so incredibly gifted at doing all this that nobody knows, except for a select few, that you even have this disability at all.

I can assure you, the man who married her, not only does not think of her as disabled, but thanks God every day for His having blessed him with her as a wife. He thanks his lucky stars that she is in his life, because he knows how differently his life could have turned out without her, and he knows that she helps him in far too many ways to count. This woman is capable, and loving, and beautiful. And yet, by the logic that is practiced upon these other women by these men- where they dismiss them because of their height or hair or their ability to see or hear or walk or who knows what else- this woman would never have gotten married. Or she would have been married off to another physically disabled person, never having been given a chance by anybody else. And that, my dear people, would have been a tragedy.

So I urge you, if this in any way affects you, to think long and hard about the people who are presented to you, and not to be rash in your dismissals of them. You truly hurt people when you dismiss them, especially people like the ones who I have just described. And the fact is, this can happen to anybody, or everybody. What if, God forbid, I were in a terrible car accident and survived it with a horrible disfiguring scar, or a broken leg, or some other contusion or problem? Would no one love me because of this; are we so shallow as a people? It is by God's grace that I walk around whole, and that I have not been given the struggles and difficulties that have been given to others. It is by God's grace that I have arms that work, and legs that work, and that thank God I am not in the position that others are in. But God can take all these things away, so that one day I could find myself a disabled person, and so could you, and so could anyone. This is nobody's fault- this is simply what can occur. And so, for you, or I, or anyone, to judge another human being and see them as less worthy because of this- because of something that could happen to me or you- is awful, and ridiculous. Whatever the form our bodies take, our souls are pure and untwisted, made only of God's light, and His grace. It is these that matter, more than anything.

All I am asking, all I am begging you for- is to give people a chance. And to be kind. To look at the world through the eyes of the other person, and realize how they feel. And to try to make their life a little easier, if it is possible. Because who knows? Even if you do not marry the person, I am sure they will have taught you an extraordinary lesson- simply by how they cope with their everyday existence, how they deal with the injustice that has been perpetrated upon them, with the way in which they encounter God and their world. And I know this from personal experience. Because I have met these people, and been awed by them. They have a great courage and grandeur with which I have not been blessed, not having faced their challenges, or having been put in their situation. There is greatness in them, and it will out. Be one of those who was willing to learn from that greatness.


Aaron said...

Chana,you are a incredibly loving and caring person. This post is a winner! Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts so powerfully!

broken heart said...

Youth,beauty and a woman's thinness are what most of the benei Torah are after. It's a known fact in the Orthodox community+if the girl is well off or not. An extremely interesting and important post. Chana,you nailed it this time! You nailed it big!

Yisroel said...

I'm curious as to what kind of responses this post will bring in. I think I agree with broken heart. A woman's physical appearance is a very important factor for a man regardless of being a frum man or not. However,it's usually the prettiness of a woman's face that's a deciding factor in whether she is asked out again or not. Yes,it's a cruel world out there. And if a woman is heavy,or dresses in clothes that are unattractive,too tight or baggy-that's a problem ,too. As far as physical disabilities are concerned-men are afraid to make a mistake in choosing a wrong wife to start with/per psychology.Can you imagine how much more complicated things could get once an issue of a potential spouse's disability is added on to this? Chana, I'm not siding with people who wouldn't give people with disabilities a chance. I'm simply stating concerns that people have regarding this very delicate issue.
An important post! You are a gifted writer and really describe things as they are.

Tzvi Feifel said...

"I choose not to place "DIS" in my ability."
-- Robert M. Hensel

Thank you, Chana...

looking deeper said...

Chana,a truly fantastic post!
I'm dating a woman who doesn't have a spleen because of a car accident she was involved in. Thank God,it 's her spleen that's missing and not a disfigured face and etc. You are 100% CORRECT!Tragic things can happen to anyone. One must look deeper and look for quality. The young woman I'm seeing is mature and caring and very understanding. She appreciates her second chance at life so much.
Thank you for this meaningful post!

I.S. said...

Chana, I've been reading your blog for a while, and this is the first time I'm commenting, because your post moved me so much. Thank you for choosing such a huge topic, and for treating it with the same honesty and clarity that gives your writing such power. I hope the people who read your post truly take the message to heart. Terrific post!

Red Eyes said...

You've got a beautiful heart to write this. So as the cliché goes ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. I believe we should give everything in life a fair chance. But it's the way of the world, as evil as the tongue can be.

Disabled YU student said...

What a significant post,Chana!
I agree totally that people with disabilities deserve relationships. I get upset when these people are being robbed out of a relationship and are just being foolishly judged by others who really don't know what they want as the evidence shows by the divorce rate. I hope that justice will prevail one day and that the people being denied a relationship over physical matters and material matters will end up having great ones and joyful ones.
Thank you for addressing this very important isue.

Stern student said...

I was recently introduced to a shadchan who had me fill out a form. Some of the questions were pretty awful-I was asked if I had physical and mental problems,if my mother attends the mikvah,if she covers her hair partially or fully. Can you imagine?!

another Stern student said...

Stern student,it sounds like this shadchan wants to set your mother up and not you. Why are you being held responsible for what your mother does? Why such a thorough background check? Why ask intimate questions about your mother's mikvah attendance? The questions sound horrible. I agree. Perhaps you should look for another matchmaker.

YU student said...


We proclaim that we are born free and equal human beings;
that our disabilities are limitations only, and that our
identity does not derive from being disabled.

We proclaim that we have the same value as people who are
not disabled, and we reject any scheme of labeling or
classifying us that encourages people to think of us as
having diminished value.

We reject the idea that institutions must be created to
"care" for us, and proclaim that these institutions have
been used to "manage" us in ways that non-disabled people
are not expected to accept. We particularly denounce
institutions whose purpose is to punish us for being
disabled, or to confine us for the convenience of others.

We reject the notion that we need "experts," to tell us
how to live, especially experts from the able-bodied
world. We are not diagnoses in need of a cure or cases to
be closed. We are human, with human dreams and ambitions.
We deny that images of disability are appropriate
metaphors for incompetence, stupidity, ugliness or weakness.

We are aware that as people with disabilities, we have
been considered objects of charity and we have been
considered commodities. We are neither. We reject
charitable enterprises that exploit our lifestyle to
titillate others, and which propose to establish the rules
by which we must live without our participation. We also
reject businesses that use us as "warm bodies" to provide
a passive market for their services, again laying down
rules by which we must live for their profit. We recognize
that the lines between charities and businesses are
blurred in the disability industry, and we do not accept
services from either if their essential function is to
exploit us.

We assert our rights of self-determination in the face of
rules, eligibility criteria, regulations, customs, laws or
other barriers, and we pledge not to allow any authority
or institution to deprive us of our freedom of choice.

Finally, we assert that any service we need, from
specialized teaching to personal care, can be provided to
us in the community among our non-disabled peers.
Segregated institutions are not necessary to serve us, and
they have been the greatest source of our oppression,
especially when they have been run by able-bodied people
without our participation.

All human beings are more alike than we are different. We
recognize that when we assert this belief we will find
ourselves in conflict with regressive institutions and
their supporters, some of whom may be disabled themselves.
We do not expect thousands of years of stereotyping to
dissipate quickly. We commit ourselves and those who come
after us to challenge our oppression on every level until
we are allowed to be fully human and assert our
individuality ahead of our disability.

By John R. Woodward, M.S.W.

Chana,thank you for the post.

Chicagoan said...

This is quite a post!
The beautiful woman who is "extraordinarily important" in your life is everyone's dream spouse,friend and a mother. I have a great priviledge in knowing her and benefit greatly from her remarkable wisdom and sensitivity.
God bless!

harry-er than them all said...

thank you for this post

Unknown said...

Years later and this post is still so relevant, especially in my own life. I'm a Juvenile diabetic who overcame a digestive complication, but can't work and have to take things easy to ensure things keep going well. So many men dismissed me, or wanted to go through personal medical information before thinking about me in any serious way. If you are wanting to marry someone, shouldn't you trust them enough to be honest with you about the hardships of their illness?

One thing I want to stress is that some with disabilities are just as judgemental about each other in shidduch and dating. I just met the most amazing man who had an accident years ago that left him disabled. I can't thank Hashem enough for the chance to know this wonderful person who I could have dismissed out of hand, thinking "Oh, with how hard my health is, why would I want to deal with another's issues too?" B"H I didn't, and instead looked at the fact we both know how to overcome hardships, what someone needs to get through the tough days, and how we both have insights into the other's experience. Just because we both have a health issue, doesn't mean we can't enjoy a full and happy life together!