The “R” word

I use it, a lot of people do. I’m trying to quit though. It’s one of those words that I really hate hearing come out of my mouth, and for good reason.

It’s hurtful and offensive.

When I was a kid, it was thrown around more than probably any other “label” that we could put on someone. It was funny. It would make people mad. Not for the reasons it should make people mad, but because no one wanted to be associated with “those people”. I used to make my sister mad by imitating Mickey Rooney’s character “Bill” , which was based on a real life success story of a handicapped man named Bill Sackter. I didn’t know that I was being an asshole.

So many things have changed since then. I think the biggest change is in how much we know about people who are different. People like me. People like you.

That’s right, every single one of us is different, and we learn that over time. We all have something that is “wrong” with us, but we don’t let it stop us from living, we learn to survive and thrive, despite any hurdles that life throws at us. If you are like me, you Google things to learn about how to overcome or how to cope with something. Some people don’t have the capabilities to use the internet, and have to cope by other means.

But we are all different.

When I was in high school, a bunch of kids would go out behind Charlie’s and make fun of the people who worked at ARC Industries. It was a place that gave employment to people who would otherwise have none. It also gave them something  to feel proud about, to learn. They would assemble things there, count out the nuts and bolts that go in your cheap, dustboard desk set that you bought at Walmart, maybe do a bit of woodworking. It doesn’t really matter what they were doing, because they weren’t doing anything to bother anyone, and they got harassed daily.

I sat and watched as people that I called my friends would antagonize them into throwing rocks back at us. I don’t remember doing the taunting, but looking back I think that doing nothing to stop it was just as bad. All they wanted to do was go outside and have a smoke when they were on their break, and they couldn’t even do that in peace. I wonder how it would feel if every time I got to sit down for lunch, or a coffee break, a bunch of bullies would start calling me names? I bet I’d snap and throw shit too.

I wish I could go back there and tell myself that I didn’t have to go along with that shit, and that you can stand up and say that something isn’t right. What’s the worst that can happen, you get your ass kicked? I have had my ass kicked lots, so that’s not a big deal. Maybe my circle of friends would get smaller? No problem, they obviously aren’t true friends anyhow. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I just sat there. I do know that I’m fucking ashamed of myself for doing it, that’s for sure. I feel like I owe a whole bunch of people an apology, and if I could tell Ian and the rest of the gang that I was sorry for what my friends and I put them through, I would. As if they didn’t have enough shit to deal with on a day to day basis, that they maybe needed a bunch of punk kids to sit and yell disparaging remarks at them. Jesus.

You know, sometimes it takes a good kick in the ass to make someone realize that what they are doing is wrong. I’m so glad that I’m not the idiot kid that I was back then, and although I feel that I’ve grown into someone that I can be proud of, I still remember who I was, and where I came from. I would never use that word towards or near someone who was handicapped, but for whatever reason, I thought it was fine to use it on almost every other occasion. That is until this one time, when I was going on a date with a girl that I was head over heels for, I did probably the worst thing that you could do on a date, or anywhere really. I swung around a lamp post and started speaking as if I were mentally challenged. I know, classy right? I saw her eyes change very quickly, and she spoke to me in a tone that made me sink into my shoes.

She said “We don’t make fun of people because of something they can’t help!”

I felt like a child that had been scolded, and my first reaction was to make some excuse to get the hell out of there, but then I actually thought about what she said. She was right. I was totally out of line, and deserved to be scolded in public, so I apologized and hoped she would still talk to me. I knew that she had worked in group homes for years, and had many friends with varying degrees of handicapability. She has told me that her father was most proud of her for working in the group homes, and I understand why. Despite all of the success she has had in her life, that was the thing he bragged about to his friends. I’m so glad that she had the courage to speak up and set me right, and I’m happy to say that her and I will be married in less than three months now. I’m also happy to say that she has helped me change the way I think about others feelings, because maybe I wasn’t saying it in front of handicapped people, but it still hurts, and it’s inviting others to use it too.

I want to thank Tanis Miller for inspiring me to write this post. I know it’s rambly and maybe doesn’t make a lot of sense,

but after reading her post Spread the Word To End the Word, I started to think about my past, and how I used to be. I’m going to make a point to not even let it slip out anymore, and if I do, I hope one of you calls me on it, because I know better, and ignorance isn’t an excuse.

He was a little weird, and we all feared, he wasn’t one of us,

Birdman

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12 thoughts on “The “R” word

  1. Birdman, i wanna start by saying thank you for your blog! As much as i like the rants of religion, C-word and photo shenanigans, the rambly posts that seem to hit home about the R-word, Cancer, Movember meanings and family and friends that mean the world to you, are what keeps me reading and posting every single morning! I’m not sure what i’m going to do Saturday and Sunday mornings since you decided that YOUR immediate family time is more important to you than coming up with 1000+ words that make your blog family better people (mostly makes us not so better people)! Good decision all around! Ramblin here myself, thanks again!
    Gadget!
    Please plan the next photo shoot soon – my cheeks and ribs stopped hurting yesterday, from all the laughing Friday night, so i am good to go!

    • I’m thinking a shoot at the cabin is in order, so as soon as the weather gets better, we should head up for a weekend. Thanks for reading, commenting, and being a part of this here blog. It’s people like you that make it so worthwhile, and can’t wait for the deck planning party.

  2. We all did shit we’re not proud of Buddy – thankfully most people grow up and out of such small minded behaviour. Love the blog.

    • Thanks Amber, and you are right about growing up. There are a few who haven’t but for the most part we are all different people. Luckily, I might add.

  3. First of all the word you are afraid to say is Russian’s. I too teased Russians growing up. They were the evil enemy. But I, like you have come to regret my ill warranted and misinformed feelings. Russian’s had left their country to come to ours so that they could flee the oppression of an un-free society. We not only called them Russian’s but also; Ruskies, Commies, Commrad Kiev and other names. They were no different than us. They had families, vodka and strippers. But as I got older I realized that I was treating them different. They were second class citizens to me, even though they did not hold citizenship.

    I can say now that I don’t use the derogatory statements anymore. I don’t call them Ruskies or Russian’s; they are Exo-Europeans. I try to be thoughtful and offer them freedom fries at lunch at my work place cafeteria just so they know that I am not mean spirited. I want the Exo-Europeans to know that the United States is a great place, with freedom loving people who don’t judge. Why? Because that is what America is. Any mis-representation of that truth which defines Americanism would just be ——–(edited by Birdman).

  4. In college, I was a part of Best Buddies, which is essentially partnering up with a mentally or physically handicapped person around our age and going out and doing activities with them, both individually and as a group with the other buddy pairs.

    My buddy was Jarrod, and I loved him. He was probably the nicest person I have ever known, with possibly the best outlook on life that I have ever witness someone have.

    Unfortunately, Jarrod tragically passed away my junior year, but I can’t stand the R word and it makes me queasy anytime I hear it.

    Nice post, man. It is an important one.

    I’ve written about him before, perhaps one day I will be brave enough to post something on the blog.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your friend, that’s too young. You constantly surprise me with your stories. After I read the pilates guest blog that you wrote, I was going to peg you as an asshole, and didn’t even bother to read anything else. I’m glad I changed my mind, because you have proven to be someone who inspires me to be a better person. Thanks for that, and keep on keeping on. I’ll keep reading.

  5. Wow. You totally just called me out, just like your then-date-turned-wife. What’s ironic here is that I’m the nice and considerate one in my relationship, scolding him for saying the ‘N’ word and other insensitive things and like you, I justified saying the ‘R’ word because I wasn’t using it out of meanness but for humor. Almost as if it was a different word when used in a different context, ya know? There’s nothing funny about it after reading this post though and when I think about that kid that was in summer camp with me…the kids were so mean to him and he was one of the sweetest persons I had ever met, like he was untainted and forever frozen in the innocence of childhood. They tricked him into taking off his bathing suit at the public pool and then commenced to laughing at him. I cried, I yelled at them, I stood up for him, consoled him and then befriended him.

    I don’t know what happened, at what point I thought to myself, “Oh what the hell, everyone else says it,” but you’re absolutely right. Thank you for the reminder.

    Excuse me, I need to go take care of a few edits.

    • Follow up: I had one usage of the word on my blog and one sorta usage of it on Twitter. I was relieved it wasn’t more because I’ve been saying it in real life a lot lately. I’m also linking to this post which is why I felt the need to say, “I’m not a total piece of shit.” 😉

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