Tuesday is the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and people in a number of areas in the United States have planned events to celebrate this milestone.
Few would question that the ADA has opened doors for people who otherwise would have been cut off from productive employment and the opportunity to do and see things that many of us take for granted.
This hit home for me when a man whose son was in a wheelchair visited the museum where I volunteer. At the time, we were waiting for the installation of a chairlift that would make the museum accessible to such visitors.
The father took photographs of everything, wanting to share the experience with his son that way, but it wrung my heart to see this young man - who waited downstairs patiently - shut out of our exhibits. Some months later they returned, and we all rejoiced as he became one of the first users of the chairlift.
Visitors such as this young man and others with different disabilities have taught me some important lessons about the human spirit and each individual's spiritual identity, which transcends physical appearance and abilities. Because each of us is really the child of God, expressing divine qualities in our own distinct ways, one's ability to contribute to the progress of the world transcends disabilities. Each of us can support one another's efforts in our prayers and in our deeds.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "What is man? Brain, heart, blood, bones, etc., the material structure? If the real man is in the material body, you take away a portion of the man when you amputate a limb; the surgeon destroys manhood, and worms annihilate it" (page 172). She went on to say that, on the contrary, such losses can sometimes spur the individual to transcend these difficulties and actually bring out more strength.
But another message one can take from this is that each individual we meet has a spiritual identity that is complete and perfect. A disability can't hide one's spiritual nature, which is the essence of everyone's being. This spiritual nature is expressed in joy, intelligence, peace, goodness, honesty, wisdom, and love. And all of us have the capacity to express some aspect of these qualities.
A family friend suffered from both physical and severe mental developmental difficulties. He was at times aggressive and out of control. His behavior was disruptive, and it was challenging to be with him. I would get frustrated and then feel guilty about being frustrated. But I found that as I prayed during those trying times, he would settle down and his eyes would again reflect his intelligence and goodness.
I eventually found a reservoir of compassion that I didn't know I had. This love went beyond my feeble attempts to "do the right thing." As I prayed, I became more able to see him as God was seeing him - in his spiritual perfection. The basis for this new vision was the Christly love that Jesus expressed toward all humanity.
Jesus healed many people with disabilities - blindness, deafness, crippling illnesses. His success as a healer was remarkable, and I've found the underlying principles of his life to be summarized in this statement from John's Gospel: "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12).
Jesus' love wasn't dependent on anyone's state of health, finances, or political connections. He loved everyone equally. And he loved the sick so thoroughly that he was able to heal them.
So if we are to love others as Jesus did, we can remove the limitations in our own thinking about them. And we can begin right now by recognizing each individual's ability to express the qualities of God to the fullest extent possible, and to affirm that each individual has the ability to make progress, that nothing can hold them back from discovering who they really are as God's children.
This won't always be easy - it wasn't easy with the friend I mentioned. But as I persevered, I didn't just learn about him and how to love him. I also learned about myself and about those untapped reservoirs of love that actually have their source in the unlimited love of God for all of His creation.