Friday, October 28, 2011

Bounce me higher!

     In the twelfth chapter of Jonathan Mooney's captivating book, The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal*, the author introduces us to Katie.  Katie is twenty-four year old woman (at the time the book was written) with Down syndrome.  Mooney (who, as a child, was labeled "dyslexic and profoundly learning disabled") had been traveling the country in a short bus -- the kind of bus special education children often ride to school.  He has been meeting adults for whom that bus was a reality; one of his last stops was with Katie.  At the end of his time with her, Mooney's traveling partner at the time suggested that she, Katie and Mooney get on the big trampoline in Katie's back yard.  Mooney was clearly not interested, but joined the two women:

"It is better if you jump together," Katie said.  So Kelly and I jumped together, our bodies slowly adjusting to each other's weight. Then Katie joined us.  We had only a few more minutes left, so Kelly, Katie, and I threw our bodies in the air and we fell into an unspoken rhythm, each of us using our weight to throw the other one up a little higher than we could ever go simply on our own.**

I was struck by the image and had to put the book down for a few minutes to let it soak in. What an amazing metaphor for cooperation and encouragement.
     I think what struck me so much is how little we hear about encouragement (maybe that's just my perception).  Certainly I hear it among members of athletic teams; they recognize that their own individual and team success depends on the success of all on the team.  But when I considered this in a broader context, I couldn't come up with a lot of other examples.  Indeed, the counter-examples are pretty apparent, from political debates to international relations to some inter-family relations.  The scarcity model reigns:  "If YOU succeed, then, in all likelihood, you'll have gotten the laurels, and there are none for me.  So why encourage YOU?"
      What Katie realized, and what Mooney and Kelly learned, was that despite their differences in abilities, weight, trampoline experience, whatever, if they used what they individually brought TO that trampoline to serve the others, they could all achieve more.  The language Mooney used suggests that there was no agenda on any of their parts, only to jump together on the trampoline.  And then they "fell into an unspoken rhythm" that produced the elevated results.
     Golly, I know I like to hear "encouraging" words, but it seems that on this "range" these days, seldom are heard encouraging words.  Yet if that is what we want to hear, if that is what we want to experience, then perhaps taking the initiative TO encourage might start a trend.  It would be consistent, certainly, with the so-called "Golden Rule" that runs through every religious tradition.  And maybe we could all,together, end up a little higher than we might on our own.
       So, how can I encourage you?



* New York:  Holt Paperbacks, 2007.
** p. 200.

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