“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3 NIV)
After I graduated college I struggled to find work. I applied everywhere but no one was interested in hiring me. Finally I was able to find a job in a group home for mentally disabled adults. It wasn’t easy work. We were responsible for the feeding, dressing, hygiene, and safety of our clients. We had to keep them on a schedule, take them to their supported jobs, and help them to control their behaviors when they acted out. It was a difficult job emotionally and I really wasn’t ready for it. The truth be told I didn’t look forward to going to work each day.
One of our clients in particular was a young man who couldn’t talk and would often act out when frustrated. He did enjoy walking outside, however, so the other workers would often have me take him for a stroll up the road to calm him down. One day when we were out walking I suddenly felt something touch my fingers. The young man was trying to hold my hand. Instead of pushing it away I took his hand in mine and we walked along together in the sunshine. Then as we turned to head back to the home I saw it. There was a light shining in his eyes. It was full of love. It was full of joy. It was full of goodness. In that moment I saw past his troubling behaviors and his handicapped mind. In that moment I saw the angelic spirit that lay within him.
In that moment I saw who he really was.
Little did I know that God would use that experience to help prepare me for my own two son’s Autism. It would help me to see the light that lay within them as well. It would help me to learn that caring for them was not a duty but an honor. It would help me to realize that they were to be my greatest teachers in how to live and how to love.
The handicapped can teach us so much in this life. They can show us the divinity that lies within each of us. They can show us that the only way to make sure that laughter, love, and joy live on our planet is to put them there ourselves. They can show us that light, love, and kindness are the essential parts of our being. Don’t ignore the lessons they teach. Embrace them with love. And always remember that every child of God is precious and holy.
Joseph J. Mazzella