What does it mean to "stay?" Why is this important to our work in the community around people with disabilities? Listen to Tim Vogt's 3-question interview with host, Katie Bachmeyer.
Katie: So, why is the concept of staying important to Starfire’s work?
Tim: There is a great quote by Wendell Berry, and he talks about the marriage vows and they are not for better and for richer and for health, they are for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health. He says that in staying we learn something closer to the truth which is that not everything in life is happy, and not everything in life is great. I think people with disabilities and their families that I know, relate that there is a great joy in life, especially when they get included and supported and loved in a way that we at Starfire hope that they could be. That continues to be a struggle for them and their families. So, if we can think about staying in solidarity, and in fraternity, and in relationship with people, we can be with them in that struggle, and it can lead to some good things, but it could be tough, many tough days.
I also think that when we think about “staying” we think about that same quote reminding us that there’s going to ups and downs and it might be tempting to leave. Leaving is an assumption that somewhere else is going to be better, but staying seems to be an invitation and a commitment to making this place better or this life better or this relationship better. So staying implies, in the depth of that concept, that I’m not just going to get out of here; I’m not going to leave you or this place. I am going to be here. There are going to ups and downs and good days and bad days, but I am still going to be here. So I think staying through those good days and bad days, and through the struggles and through the joys, and paying attention to the closer you get to the truth of what life is all about, what inclusion is all about.
Inclusion is not all happy and fun; it means I accept you as you are.
I believe you can do better, but I accept you as you are. And you belong already; there is no need for you to have to earn it or prove that you are valuable, more valuable than you already are, so the idea of stay relates to peace. It relates to rest; it relates to some sort of satisfaction, and it relates to time in a really great way that I chose to commit myself to people, or a place, or to an idea, in a way that just gives the long story a chance to unfold. People with disabilities have a really small degree of imagination of story and imagination around their lives. There is a very short story about disability. It fits in this box and goes here and these people go here and that is what defines their life. So it is not a very big story and if we can stay with people and help nurture and participate in their journey and struggle for a better life, then we can see that there is a better story. You have to stay to see that better story.
Katie: Is it important to talk about staying because that isn’t a common reality for people with disabilities for in their lives that people often do not “stay”?
Tim: Yeah, I mean, when we look at the people that we support and the people that we love and know with disabilities, we see a lot of leaving in their lives. You’ve got professionals that are in and out depending on their next job, or if they got fired or promoted or left. So, there’s this constant turnover. And if we’re being really honest, we hear that there’s a lot of absence of community and rejection sometimes for people with disabilities and their families. And, an absence and rejection is a leaving of sorts. Right? Like, you’re left alone. We’re outta here. We’re not gonna be with you anymore. So, when you’ve got a disability, you’ve got this turnover almost in your life. Your social stories are very short. People are in it for a few minutes or a few hours or a few weeks or months as professionals, they’re not really in it for a long period of time. So, the counter, the antidote would be staying, the people that are there for a long time.
There’s also just an interesting, I would call it a creative limitation, that people with disabilities and their families are inviting us into.
A lot of people I know who have disabilities can’t drive. And so, their mobility is limited. They might not be able up and move to a new city for college because college isn’t even an option. Or, they would lose their funding if they moved out of state. Or, the public transportation system doesn’t actually travel between cities, you know. So, the mobility of people with disabilities is really physically limited, and the options of moving about are limited. So, then if we’re asking the question, “How might someone with a disability have a good life?” one of the factors is we that we think the reality is they’re going to be limited in how they move about.
So, we would want to develop local networks and really have people who have stayed around them be part of the story, that would have known them for a long time. The last aspect of stay that I can think of that really matters is that staying relates to taking care of a place and the people in that place. So, there’s another great essay that Wendell Berry wrote about his family’s farm and the generations of his family that have taken care of that place. And there’s a, by taking care of that place, they’re taking care of the people around them and of that place too. So, people who take care of a neighborhood or take care of a block, or take care of a city; because they’ve lived there their whole lives, those are the kind of people who create a culture where somebody’s looking after the place and the people in it.
And, if we could have more people stay and own the caretaking of places, and root themselves deeply, they would grow big networks, and they would, over time, probably build a culture that was very conducive to the lives of people with disabilities and that culture.
Katie: So, last question. Who do you think is called to stay? And, how do they do that?
Tim: I think we’re all called to stay. However, I don’t think that any of us are required to stay. There are good reasons for moving on from relationships and places. You can’t afford it, or the person you’re committed to turns out not to be the person that you thought they were, and that’s dangerous. But, I think that the problem is that if we don’t leave the potential for staying open, then we don’t ever invest deeply. We don’t get to know the people around us because we’re already out the door. We’re buying this next house in order to flip it in five years, and move to a new place. So, why would we invest in each other? Why would we care about each other’s well-being? Why would we look out for our neighbors? Why would we bring flowers to the woman whose husband passed away across the street? Why would we, you know, get to know the kids on our block if we’re gonna be gone in a few years’ time? So, the temporary-ness that we start with is key. Or the permanency.
If we start with an idea that this might be a place that I stay, and we find out that it’s not, that’s great because the assumption was there to begin with, and we invested as if we were going to stay. I once met a woman who really challenged me on that. And she said, “I was a military kid. I had to move.” She said, “And, I’m still a military wife now.” And she said, “I still have to move.” And she said, “But every place I go, I invest like I’m gonna be there for the rest of my life.” That was awesome and beautiful.
She didn’t forego relationships, she didn’t create an absence in the neighborhood or in the families around her by assuming that she would be gone. She actively, intentionally said I’m going to invest, because I know I’m gonna be gone but I still need to take care of this place by investing in it as though I’m gonna live here myself.
So, if I’m a person with a disability and I don’t get to move, but everybody around me is flipping their houses every five years, and everybody is of the mindset that they’re outta here in a few years, then quickly my condition deteriorates, and I could be stuck. And, instead of staying, I’m stuck. Everybody around me – no one knows me. No one’s built a great garden that I can be a part of. Nobody knows when my birthday is. And, I’m not a part of their world either.