We were standing in line to buy popcorn, excited about our first “date night” in a long time. For us, going to the movies is usually a family affair and the selections are usually the animated sort. But tonight, it was just Ben & me and we were ready to be swept away by an engaging storyline and plot. One of the things I have always loved about going to the movies is the transformative experience I sometimes have…when I leave the theatre feeling informed and empowered by the imagery and dialogue played out on the movie screen. Little did I know, the transformation I was about to experience was getting ready to take place in the concession stand line.
As Ben wrapped his arm around me and ordered a super-sized bucket of popcorn, it happened. Above the roar of conversation in the lobby, I heard a voice from behind me distinctly say,
“That’s so retarded.”
In that moment, a piece of me died, but a far bigger piece of me was born. My heart began to race and my face became flushed. I quickly turned around only to find three teenage boys sharing a laugh over something they thought was so “retarded.”
Ever since I learned about the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, I have been on a mission to do my part and stop the use of the “r-word.” Our family has spent the past year advocating for this campaign and using our voices to promote the acceptance and inclusion of people living with intellectual disabilities. We eat, sleep and breathe this campaign and yet, this was the first time I had found myself confronted by the monster.
It’s far easier to advocate when your audience is at arm’s length. Sharing our mission through blogging, concerts, speaking engagements, and Facebook is the easy part. Looking the enemy in the eye is a whole different ballgame. And while this moment was completely unexpected, I was completely prepared. Prepared to demand respect for my children and every other person living with an intellectual disability in this world. Prepared to be a voice for those that need it the most.
I took a deep breath and began to speak…and as I spoke to the boys and explained why their choice of words was so hurtful, I found myself feeling more and more passionate about the cause and more determined to make a difference. The boys listened intently and apologized profusely. I can say with reasonable confidence, those three boys will never use the “r-word” again.
As Ben and I settled into our seats for the movie, he grabbed my hand and our eyes filled with tears. We both knew that the transformative experience we had come to the movies for, had already happened.