Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What I Learned at Camp

Philip is what would be described as a high-functioning client in the circles of caregivers for those suffering from developmental disabilities. He carries a job, is literate, and manages most of his own personal care. His question, posed to me at camp on the last night while we danced to Beyonce’s “If you like what you see put a ring on it,” came as a surprise. I was shaking and gyrating and grooving, using muscles I forgot I had when he asked what his question, jolting me right out of rhythm. “When do you think Jesus is coming back?” That was what Philip wanted to know.

Since I come from a long line of literal-minded Christians, I know what Philip was asking. What he wanted to know was whether I thought the rapture would happen in our lifetime or whether it would be later. He could probably even quote me chapter and verse to back up his theory of when the world would end, but I was dancing and I didn’t really want to stop and hold a theological discussion.

The funny thing about his question, however, was that I sort of felt like the second coming of Jesus had already happened. The reign of God, as far as what I know, was breaking out all around me at that very minute Philip asked his question. I saw it when I glanced over to see Jill, a tiny slip of a girl, nonverbal and profoundly disabled, donned in her pink helmet and hugging her teddy bear, standing right in front of the speaker, smiling and rocking in perfect rhythm, perfect rhythm, her face completely at peace. I saw it when Bonnie, a staffer who teaches high school English, wheeled a squealing Johnny, darting in and out of couples and circling the group. I saw the reign of God break out when Larry, a camper who would never even enter the room where we danced in years passed, wore his cowboy hat and a huge grin, camped out in the center of the floor, dancing the entire night.

Bill, now in his sixties and suffering from dementia along with other developmental disabilities, slow-danced with Martha, a young woman who points to pictures to show you what she wants and laughs hysterically when offered cookies and applesauce. Roger, bound to his wheelchair, also profoundly disabled, was lifted up and out by his caregiver and whisked across the floor. Frank held hands with Matthew, swinging their arms back and forth while Debbie, a staffer and survivor of breast cancer twirled by herself, laughing right out loud.
It was all there and it was complete and whole and right. The reign of God, a dance of crooked people, broken people, despised people, all holding each other up, all dancing together, all in perfect delight. “If you like what you see, put a ring on it,” pulsing louder and louder.

“When do you think Jesus is coming back?” Philip asks his question so innocently, so honestly, so desiring of acceptance, so desiring to be seen as normal.

And I look around the room and I bounce from side to side, snap my fingers, dip my knees, fling my hips, and I smile and say, “Philip, he already has. He already has!”

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