A few days ago the kids and I enjoyed the most wonderful morning at the local public pool. It’s a giant facility complete with multiple pools, splash pad, water slides, river pool, and more. We met up with some friends and a few hundred strangers joined us too. Typically, I run in the opposite direction from busy places, but when it comes to a swimming experience like this, I just had to try it out.
Swimming pools are notorious for exposing our insecurities and differences. And it’s funny, but this didn’t occur to me until we got home. There we were in the middle of a few hundred people, and I didn’t think about my son Ryan’s difference, or what others may or may not be thinking. As far as I saw, there weren’t any stares. Fingers weren’t pointed in our direction. I didn’t hear any snickers or name-calling. All I saw was my son, his sister, and their friends having a blast together. And all I heard was the kids’ playful banter and myself catching up with friends. And yet, this picture-perfect experience may not have happened at all. I guess it is true —
Ignorance is bliss.
It’s a phrase that I’ve heard my entire life. Most people say it in passing. But for me, I’ve come to believe that it’s the reason for my happiness. Ryan has dwarfism. And that means he looks quite different from his peers. For the past five years, his difference hasn’t been dramatically evident. But now that he is far out of the baby stage, he stands out more and more.
When I look at Ryan, I don’t see anything different. I just see my little boy. I see Ryan. Maybe that’s part of my ignorance. After all, Ryan’s small size is our normal. I often forget that he is a little person. Our normal is a happy place. Ryan is loved for who he is. And he loves himself for who he is — just like the normal that many families experience. We embrace who we are and venture outside of our home with loads of love and support behind us.
But outside of our home, there is no denying that Ryan is different. That our normal isn’t typical for most. And because of his rare condition, there can be stares, name-calling, finger-pointing, laughing — everything I’ve feared from the moment he was diagnosed.
But what I didn’t count on was my ignorance. Who would have thought I would be so happy to be completely and totally oblivious? But I am. The big mean world has no affect on me. Or Ryan. And it’s not because the stares and comments aren’t coming in our direction. It’s because we haven’t noticed. We are out doing our thing. For now, our happy protective normal travels with us. We don’t worry about what others are thinking. So we don’t see anything to get upset about.
Of course, sometimes I see looks and glances in our direction. But my ignorance only glorifies these occurrences. I see the looks turn into smiles, and I take them as compliments. After all, they could be looking at us because they like what they see. And I refuse to let myself believe otherwise. What’s the point? I’m going to enjoy the “not knowing.” Making someone’s glance into an insult causes hurt and pain for us. And it may not even be accurate. I’m choosing ignorance over anger and tears.
As Ryan and his peers are growing up, I’m starting to hear more and more heartbreaking stories from our fellow “Little Big” friends. There’s cruel pointing and name-calling, directly to a child’s face. It angers and frustrates me how some kids and adults can be when it comes to a person with a disability. I’m sure my ignorance is only temporary and that we will soon experience what our dear friends have. But because I’ve enjoyed my ignorant bliss for so long now, I’m determined to learn from it, to utilize it to make these experiences more bearable, and to make them insignificant.
As my ignorance fades and the world doesn’t allow us to miss the cruelty and hurtfulness, I need to look back at my ignorant bliss as a reminder. When wounding words and gestures are directly in our face, I need to choose bliss over sadness. I need to remember that there are nasty people in the world who, for whatever reason, feel the need to cut others with their words.
But the words won’t cut deep if we don’t let them. I need to remember that I have a choice. I can choose the hurt, or I can choose bliss. If I am able to render the sharp angry words insignificant, then they can’t hurt us as much. These experiences will always draw some blood and tears. It’s impossible to walk away unscathed from such horrible experiences, but it is possible to move on and to choose happiness — to choose ignorant bliss.
You may worry that choosing ignorance may result in lost chances to educate or to put the nasty in their place. But despite its lack of dramatic effect, ignorance still makes quite a statement. Actions speak louder than words. By choosing bliss, hurtful people don’t matter. The cruel words are lost, and we carry on with confidence. Ryan is small, but he’s not a joke. And though he’s small in size, he’s larger than life when it comes to everything that matters. Just watch — glance in our direction. Stare at us. It’s okay. We have something to show you.