It’s one thing to dash in to help the disabled for a week and leave. it’s quite another to live a life of constant contact—even though I know now that precisely is the medicine my soul needs— because it reminds me daily how based on my definition of success it is I, and not they, who am intellectually disabled.
Here are three things the intellectually disabled taught me about success...
“I don’t really like old people,” I told Sores, a Turkish born Kurd, 28 year old communications student, who receives free rent in exchange for serving, living, and participating in community events at Humanitas, an intergenerational co-living community with 160 elderly residents and 6 students in Deventer, Holland. “I mean, it’s not their fault,” I continued. “It’s mine. The only older people I’ve ever spent time around is my grandparents. And I tend to not like people who are unfamiliar to me...”
“When I look into the eyes of a prostitute I only see myself,” I told Phillip. “I’m selling myself for a price,” I continued. “Whether I sell my body in a brothel or in a job I work purely to fit societal norms, it’s still prostitution at some level.”
“Not long ago I kept noticing that when I walked by junkies and prostitutes I got this gross feeling,” Phillip said. “I didn’t like it. So, during my lunch breaks at work instead of eating with my colleagues I decided to have lunch with a junkie or a prostitute. It was nice. And it was different for them and for me. When I listened to their stories, where they came from and how they got here, about life plans gone wrong or abuse in their families, I realized...
I’ve been co-living for most of my adult life. After living with missionaries in Kenya, I moved into the Star Gospel Mission, then I did it when I was the “garage ginger” and lived with one of my now best friends who I met on Craigslist, and then when I lived in the Landay’s room above their garage. After a breakup at the end of 2012 somebody told me I needed to grow up and get my own place so that people could see me “nesting.” I did. I got a nice condo on Daniel Island and bought new furniture and learned to cook. But I think I scared people a little when I made them dinner at my place and told them how much I loved living at the Star Gospel Mission and how I wanted to move back.
For the last few months and several more I am living with 16 Ivy League aspiring entrepreneurs in Brooklyn. I sleep on the top bunk in a three bedroom house. The bathroom needs cleaning. We're low on paper towels.
Chad is the founder. He's a 20 year old Cornell student that's developed an impressive business model in 10 months. Bradley is in his mid 20's. The company he started is at one of the world's best incubators. He works with billion dollar family funds who want to invest in cryptocurrency. He graduated from Columbia, where Chelsea is in public policy school. She interns at UNICEF.
Why do I keep Jesus away? Is it because he's a criminal? But if I want to be close to him wouldn’t I also want a prison in my neighborhood so I could visit him more conveniently? Is it because he’s uneducated? But which is better, learning a degree for a job or forgiveness for the soul? Or is it because he’s poor and needy? But wouldn’t I give up a higher real estate value to be able to live closer to Jesus?
Because I dream of a world that redefines success as a life of purpose.
We all want purpose. We all want to get up in the morning motivated and free from worry. We all want to know we’re making a difference in the world. We all want to give and receive love. We all want the conviction that says, I don’t care, I’m doing this, even if it kills me.