to welcome the stranger…

Do you remember when you entered a new “community of people” as a stranger? Did you feel welcomed?

My memory — I was 15 and a new kid in a new school. All of my education up to that time had been in “special” schools for children with disabilities (I have used a wheelchair to get around all of my life). These schools were filled with many children with varying physical and mental abilities. There were a small number of children, myself included, who together were instructed at our grade level and offered skills training to thrive in a non-disabled world. By the time I was 14, public schools throughout the country were beginning to adjust, adapt and open the doors to students of all abilities.

 I was 15 and a new kid in a new school. In my 9th grade year, we moved to a town that had one high school for the whole county and no “special” school. Going with my parents to the high school for registration and to meet some of the teachers, I noticed immediately that hallways were long, ceilings were high and no student was my height (I’ve always done a lot of ‘looking up). Though I was excited, I felt very small.

Do I remember? Oh yes, this memory still stirs emotion. I was welcomed. Welcomed with all of the energy that catapults one through their adolescence, the ups and the downs. With genuine hospitality and support, I entered this new “community of people”. It was a pivotal experience at a formative time. Looking back I know those teachers and friends helped me “vision” a future with confidence.

Flexibility and the openness to welcome diversity are both at the core of my memory. It is not about being comfortable but being willing to adapt and welcome the person you might least expect at your door.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

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