I would like to share with you a message from my dear friend and use her message as a conduit for my own. We have known each other for a while but have become extremely close during COVID-19. She is 52 has an intellectual disability. When everything shut down, she needed me and, of course, I was there for her. What I did not know was how much I needed her.
I never took our friendship for granted; I just didn’t realize what great times we had together and how genuinely real and meaningful they were. When it was time to choose our “quaranteam,” we agreed we would be part of each other’s, and the rest is history. We have had adventures and conversations that ended up being highlights of my last year. Instead of only running errands and taking care of things, we were able to do some unique explorations, and I was able to introduce her to my family.
As part of her challenges, she does not speak very loud or clearly, but I could always understand her and relished in what she had to say. She often told me that she knew she was difficult to understand and, like our nation’s poet laureate Amanda Gorman, who also had a speech impediment, she preferred to write down her thoughts. She shared the following poem with me about her experiences during COVID-19, and I would like to share it with you.
Regardless of whether you can speak or just write, regardless of whether you have an IQ of 160 or 60, we all have something to say that is worth hearing, and I know firsthand that the world is a better place when we all are listening to each other. Please just open your heart to those you may perceive as different. I promise during this time and always, you will be surprised by the voids that can be filled.
This Self-Advocacy Spotlight was reprinted with permission. The original essay by Michelle Simon and poem by Susan Berch ran in 2020 Hindsight, a book published in May 2021 by the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta.
Susan Berch is very involved in the Uniting for Change Leadership Collective and has worked at Jewish Family and Children’s Services for 28 years.