Where have all the “unmentionables” gone?

On the 17th, we participated in a Costa Rican tradition, the Festival of Lights and I wrote a brief blog post about it.  But I didn't exactly tell the WHOLE story of that night.

After our girls' first performance, one of our girls wanted something to eat, so we stopped at a nearby food cart and ordered some quesadillas.  Make a mental note: if you go to Costa Rica and order quesadillas, please give yourself food amnesia and forget EVERY other quesadilla you have ever eaten, because it will likely bare little resemblance to that in taste.  Imagine American cheese and some chicken between 2 pieces of flour tortilla, drizzled with more melted American-esque cheese, sour cream and a sauce very similar to 1000 Island dressing.  Oh, on top of undercooked fries and a side salad.

Anyway, right after this meal was ready, the lady in the cart called my husband over to pick it up.  As he was walking back to our crowd of hungry kids with his hands full of food, something quite shocking happened.

A man, seemingly from out of nowhere, came up to our styrofoam square dish o' quesadillas and proceeded to tear a piece off and eat it…and then reach for more!

Dumbfounded.  We were simply dumbfounded.

At first, I thought it was one of the workers who noticed something odd about the dish and wanted to bring it back to correct it.  The Pilot's initial thought was that he was trying to get something off the tortillas, like a bug or something.

When my husband pulled the food away, the man was not dissuaded and reached to get more.  I told him "No!" in a very firm and strong voice, but it only bought us seconds.  At that point, a cook from the food cart came out and got the man's attention away from us, then told us he was a "crazy boy".  The man was mentally disabled.

So we quickly took our food to a nearby table…but not out of sight of our new friend.  It wasn't long before his sights were on our plate again.  He began to approach the table and the Pilot stepped in his way.  He tried to engage him in conversation, blocking his view of the food with a balloon, anything to get this very aggressive food thief away from us.  It didn't work. 

They ended up almost dancing around our little park table…one trying to keep the other away…the other trying to find a chance to break through this very inconvenient barrier that was keeping him from some food.

Just to note, this man was not starving, looked very well taken care of, was decently dressed, and had no outward appearance, from first glance, of having any mental condition.

But he did not speak.  Did not make eye contact.  He shook his hands back and forth like a quick waving motion with his fingers wide-spread.

I kept trying to shove bite after bite into the children's mouths to get the food GONE.  I was mildly concerned for their safety, not knowing the mental state of the man.

Thankfully, the local police stepped in and shooed the man away after what felt like an eternity.

But it got us all thinking, "Where are all the 'unmentionable' people in the US?"

Why is it that you don't often see "crazy people" out in the open?  I remember one guy in Valdosta, GA that would always seem to be on the road to the base, always talking to himself.  Or a young man on a street corner in Tampa that liked to sing/dance with no music anywhere.

But if you really stop to think about it, there are not many "crazy people" that are out in the open, front and center, in the United States.  The mentally challenged people, whether born that way or a result of life choices or traumatic incident, they're all locked away in nondescript buildings for other people to take care of.

What does this say about the American culture?  If you're not pretty or handsome or able to hold a regular conversation or have something like Down's Syndrome, or have different religious beliefs (ie. Nazi's vs. Jews), then maybe you just don't deserve to be part of "our" world.  It wasn't long ago in US history that sterilization of mentally challenged human beings was standard practice.  (I'm not going to get into the implications of whether a mentally challenged person is capable of raising a child.  That's not the point I'm trying to make.)

But these people, these human beings, that require a bit more work, are often cast into an institution because they don't "fit" our ideals of what we want to deal with.

Yes, I do understand that there are often extenuating circumstances and each case is different, but it is not hard to make the leap that many people don't see these people's lives as having equal value to ours.  That then opens the doors to unequal rights for physically disabled people, the elderly, and unborn babies who are, at times, aborted because of a test that might not be 100% accurate.  How many expectant mothers worried themselves sick over a false positive on one of those tests, only to deliver a perfectly healthy baby?

Tonight was definitely a teachable moment for our girls.  We had to try to deflect the shocking incident and think more about how we should deal with someone who is different than we are…and show them love.  My husband did a great job trying to reach this man through conversation, but unfortunately, his condition prevented him from being able to respond.  But he treated him like a PERSON, not a worthless cast-off that needs to be locked up somewhere.  On the walk home, almost 2.5 hours after the incident, our girls kept talking about it, saying "I bet he was thinking _____." 

But I had to step in and say, "Girls, I don't think he did much thinking except that he saw some food, decided he wanted some and took it.  He probably didn't do much more thinking than that."

So what do we DO with people like this man?  I certainly don't have all (or even any) practical answers except to say that it doesn't seem like God would want us to lock them away so we can forget about them and go along our pretty little lives.

The reality of life is that, sometimes, it stinks.  Someone has a child who isn't "perfect" and has to care for him or her the best way they know how.  Being a parent means making sacrifices and some sacrifices are much bigger than others.  Maybe those of us who do not have to deal with such burdens on a regular basis should be better at helping those who do.  THAT would be an excellent line item to add to any bucket list. I know I certainly haven't done my part.  Have you?

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3 Responses to “Where have all the “unmentionables” gone?”

  1. Rebeca Says:

    Interesting thoughts, Susan! My parents have been involved with the homeless for much of my life, so I guess I've been exposed to a lot of the untidy parts of our society.

  2. Rebeca Says:

    I realized I might have sounded a little insensitive in my comment here… I'm sorry if it came across that way. I agree that American culture often doesn't know what to do with people who are different. It's so good for children to be exposed to people like this, to know that they are all just people, like us, made in the image of God. Good for you for showing them this!

  3. Susan Says:

    I just finished an interesting book called "Secrets of the Heart" by  Jillian Kent.  It is set in England in the 1800s and mentions the insane asylum and how the people were mistreated.  Of course this was a story and the owners were doing it for money.  But I think even the ones that were supposed to be there were shackled etc.  Just made me think.  So I hope that in the US we've come far and don't just lock them up anymore.  We have an older gentleman at our church who walks around telling everyone he prays for them every day.  Very sweet, but hard to have a conversation with him.  The man you saw biking near Moody every day has passed away.  I know a man in our church helped him out with blankets and food for awhile. 

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