Being Known

Yesterday around 3:30 I was in the front of Starfire’s building and I ran into a woman,” Karen”, who was looking for help navigating the bus schedule. I tried to help her identify which bus to take and she went about her day. I left around 5:45 ready to head for home and as I passed the bus stop near our building I saw Karen standing there, confused. Had she been waiting for over two hours?? I immediately turned around and asked her if she needed a ride. She got in my car and I drove her to the nail salon about 3 miles down the road….

What does it mean to be known?

I’ve been looped into dialogues about this kind of question several times over the years but more so in an esoteric sense. Now I ask it to myself in an effort to find a way to communicate to others about the why around our work through Starfire.

I get equally impassioned and frustrated in the conversation about why we do what we do.
We connect people based on their passions and interests rather than their deficiencies or disabilities.

We know in the deepest sense of ourselves that knowing people, labeling people, based on what inherently sucks about them does not create community- no one introduces me as “oh you gotta meet my friend Sarah! She’s sabotaged every romantic relationship she’s been in based on her inability to overcome her destructive patterns!” ….That would be insane!! Who would want to get to know me deeper?? However, our society does this, everyday, with people who have the label of disability. “My brother has Down Syndrome- you should meet him because you work with people like him!” First of all, I work with people who like gardening, basketball, cooking, Indian Culture and Bollywood films, writing, researching, meeting new people, working with their hands, and on and on the list goes. Second, yes, I’d love to “meet your brother.” I’d love to meet him and find out what he loves and what he cares about and then I’m going to work my ass off to find the other people and places who love and care about the same things. It is at this intersection that a seed of connection can be planted. A seed that if watered by friends, family members and paid staff, can blossom into a friendship- a natural friendship based on a shared interest.

But, back to Karen. This little story tells me a few things: 1. If I don’t know Karen exists, then I drive past that bus stop and see her as any ole person waiting for the bus and I go on my way. She’s “independent” and she figures it out on her own. 2. If I only know Karen by what she needs or what she can’t do then I’m in a great position to “help” her out. But then the connection stops there. I drop her off at the nail salon and I head home.

Now imagine. Imagine if I know Karen exists, I know where she lives, and I know one or two things about her that she loves/is passionate about/is interested in. If I know her, I now know how to invite her in. Into community life that has actively excluded her for her entire life. Sometimes unintentionally, sometimes systematically- either way, not being given the opportunity to be known by anyone other than your disability and what services you attend is an injustice.

Let’s step outside of disability though. Imagine I know you, the reader. I know you exist, I know where you live, and I know one or two things you love/are passionate about/are interested in. Now I know how to connect you to a world in which you are already a part. I can invite you to a potluck, introduce you to my friends who started Cinciknitti, connect you with a friend who is doing a sweet neighborhood research project that you might want to get involved in!

For some reason this second anecdote seems familiar doesn’t it? It seems natural and normal and what one may simply call the beauty of networking! But the first anecdote- imagining knowing Karen is unnatural, weird, outside of the realm of possibility.

Or is it?

At Starfire we are constantly doing unnatural things to support people in having natural lives. Take a chance with us. Trust us. And next time you find yourself questioning why we’re focusing on making connections and building relationships, try asking my favorite question: Why not!?!?

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9 Responses to Being Known

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  2. Very poignant post. I think sometimes we’re so conditioned to meet and know people through “acceptable” ways that it feels wrong to strike up a conversation outside of any context. I can think of two very rewarding times I’ve made myself step outside my comfort zone to get to know new and different people.

    One is a gentleman anyone who frequents Findlay Market will surely recognize. Andre stands outside the market and sings his heart out. My husband and I just started out saying hi and offering him a few dollars but we soon learned that he’s just a really cool guy who is always smiling and singing no matter how cold it is or how badly he is feeling. Now we stop and chat with him, maybe share some treats from the market and ask him how he’s doing. I saw someone cringe when he hugged us for a Christmas gift last year, but to us he’s not just a homeless man on the corner. He has a heart and soul and just sings to make our days better. Why would anyone be afraid of that?

    The second person is a woman who sells papers downtown. She is a graduate of the Anna Louise Inn and has been addicted, homeless and down on her luck. After striking up a conversation with her randomly one day, I found she shares my love of writing poetry and has published a collection of poems. She’s had a tough life but what is remarkable about her is her positive attitude. I miss her when I don’t see her for a while.

    I was always one of those shy people who looks straight ahead in an elevator and avoided conversations with strangers. My new year’s resolution last year was to STOP THIS! I forced myself to say hi to people I passed or found myself waiting with. After a while, I found that I was no longer forcing myself, but was actually excited to seek out those random ties that bind. It does somehow seem more rewarding when it happens by chance.

    • kathywenning says:

      Thank you, Jennifer for sharing your stories! There are so many interesting people to get to know when we let ourselves make those connections. And some of the most unusual friendships are the most rewarding!

  3. Dr. Thomas Knestrict says:

    To ‘Know” and ‘Be Known’ part of a wonderful classroom model called the Responsive Classroom. They call things like this ‘Academic Enablers’ . Love that phrase. I see these types of ideas as ‘Human Enablers’. Nice post!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sarah Buffie, this is wonderful thought, writing, and work!

  5. Momma Jude says:

    Sarah, you make Momma Jude proud!

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