Spread the Word to End the Word

In regard to last week’s post I would like the record to show that Jonathan has enjoyed Wawa not once, but twice since my refusal to treat him to a Wawa sandwich as a “snack”. I would also like to reiterate that the boy wanted this “snack” only minutes after having eaten dinner. (Let the record also show that I am Italian and Hungarian, therefore no one leaves my dinner table still hungry).

He was filled with giggles and glee on Sunday and then again on Tuesday when he was treated to Wawa sandwiches for lunch. Gasps of “I love it!” were spoken possibly as many times as the pestering of “Why not Wawa sandwich” of the previous week.

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Jonathan and Kristina on his second Wawa trip

And now I’d like to take this post and twist it into a direction you weren’t expecting.

Jonathan will say he is hungry at any time of day, whether he is actually hungry or not. He doesn’t understand the absurdity of eating a 10-inch sandwich only half an hour after taking second helpings of barbecue chicken and macaroni and cheese. He can’t recognize nor understand that his stomach will hurt not because he is sick, but because he has exceeded the amount of food that should be eaten in a specific time frame.

Although Jonathan cannot gauge when he is full, and though he is about to turn 23 and is still on a first grade reading level, he understands the things in life that matter most. He knows that everyone, no matter who you are, can always use a hug. He knows that “How are you” means I’m interested in what is going on with you and, if given the opportunity, he’ll ask you a few dozen times. He knows that, as he told my sister-in-law, Kristina, he loves Jesus because “He’s all the time in my heart”. He knows to laugh when something is funny (ie: the minion’s butt crack in the new Minions movie”) and knows how to be present with someone when they’re having a rough time.

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The word retarded comes from the Latin word retardare, meaning to “make slow, delay, keep back, hinder”*. This word is even applied musically in the term ritardando which means a gradual decrease in tempo. Mentally retarded was once used in our country to describe someone like Jonathan, until it was deemed offensive, perhaps because of its sudden usage as a slang word. From a simple Latin word, this word suddenly was perverted to become a term of mockery, a term to belittle others, a term to make others feel stupid. *See Dictionary.com.

While Jonathan is certainly slower in many areas of life, he is quick in all the areas that count. He is quick to care, quick to recognize when something is wrong, and quick to offer his help.

But retarded?

Impossible.

How can someone who has taught me to love be described with such a word? How can someone with such an expansively colorful imagination and passion for life be given such a generic label? No disability, no lack of education will ever keep Jonathan down or hold him back from enjoying life to the fullest. The problem is not enough people have come into contact on a deep level with someone like Jonathan. If they had, they would know that retarded is a word for the weak.

Though my personality keeps me from being the the person who will cut you off and tell you I’m offended by the word, my feelings are similar to Cleveland Browns’ Cornerback, Joe Haden, who said, “Open up your vocabulary, people”. My first thought when I hear any kind of offensive language is, “We have to be more educated than that.” I can’t believe that at this point in our advancement as human beings we are still using blatantly offensive yet ridiculously simplistic words to express our feelings towards people and things. Yet my faith in society is crushed with each slur I hear spoken. With all this talk of tolerance that is being wiped across the face of our nation, let’s make sure it isn’t just he who yells loudest gets heard.  Let’s make sure that people like Jonathan who can’t stand up for themselves are heard and that our nation is encouraged to build up its vocabulary rather than tear down its people.

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