My good friend growing up, Ed Leahy, asked me to give the keynote talk at the 13th Conference on Disability at the University of Scranton. He and I have been friends since grade school and have kept in touch all these years. I could not say no. The talk is later today.
Ed and his wife, Pat, had one child, a son born with a disability. He died 20 years ago, but his presence in their lives and their love for him have not faded one bit. Ed is a retired attorney living just outside Washington, D.C. who is a graduate of the University of Scranton and has been on the board of directors there. He and Pat have been very instrumental in beginning this annual conference. I will be traveling to Scranton right after I finish writing this column for the November 6 issue of The Record.
As speaking engagements near, especially when the commitment was made a year ago, there is a certain amount of dread. The thinking goes like this: Why in the world did I say yes? There is so much to do. I hate the travel. How will I get ready for yet another talk?
These thoughts crossed my mind, ever so briefly. Then I began to think of my dear brother, Georgie, who had Down syndrome and whose presence changed my life and that of my family and so many others. I began to get excited about the prospect.
For preparation, I read Pope Francis’ message on the 20th anniversary of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Of all things, he spoke of family as the difference- maker when it comes to a person with disabilities. The family can be the difference in moving one away from a “leftover.” “throwaway” attitude that demeans anyone with a disability and any thought of the sacrifice called for to a renewed attitude that can change civilization.
Pope Francis said: “The family…is the teacher of acceptance and solidarity: it is within the family that education substantially draws upon relationships of solidarity…the family teaches us not to fall into individualism and to balance the ‘I’ with the ‘we.’” Then he adds: “It is there that ‘taking care of one another’ becomes a foundation of human life and a moral attitude to foster.”