Yesterday, I asked a question to a group of about 40 people from all walks of life, gathered under a hand-constructed hut providing afternoon respite from the hot Tamil Nadu sun. Sitting, standing, listening intently, are men, women and children, mostly south Indian, from this rural part of Tamil Nadu. People from the surrounding villages, people connected in some manner to this fledgling but beautiful effort in the district of Villipuram to bring together people with and without disability in communion, community and relationship. All of these people care about restoring the plot of land they have to fruitfulness, and restoring themselves and others to the notion of community that, for many of them, has rejected them so profoundly. Some young people in the group are volunteers from Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, here for a few months or weeks to try to move the world forward a bit. Most, though, are from right here in Tamil Nadu, and have stories of brutality and rejection to tell that would make your hair stand on end. They are people who grew up in orphanages, or were abandoned in hospitals, or had stones thrown at them, or were told, quite literally, that there is no place for them in the world. There are also families and those who have been caught up in the vision that this little place holds for us to learn how to be together.
It’s a question which seems unaskable, when standing in front such a group. It’s rude. It seems an affront, an impossibly personal question when one considers the truth about what we as humans have perpetrated on such people and their families. I steeled myself, and asked what their vision was for their lives and for the future. Seems a hard thing to ask someone who is in a small lake of calm after a sea of trouble. It’s a lot to ask. And the answers came flowing. Many people even stood up, came to the front of the room to be heard by all of us. Such dreams we humans have. Such robustness. And here is one of the statements that caused a small shift inside me. One that I believe made an impact on each of us in that gathering in shelter from the harsh Tamil sun.
“I want to be invited to come back”
What a bold and powerful assertion for this South Indian man to make. He has been so profoundly rejected, this man. And yet resolute that it is not enough for us, in these enlighted days, to allow him a seat at the community table. To afford him some sort of job. To allow him the right to marry. To make sure his children and all others are allowed into what he calls ‘normal schools’, to not ask for his father’s name but to call him by his very own name.
Does he recognize what he is really asking? Much more than simply a pathway back to typical Indian life, or permission to enter. That is not enough, not by a long shot. He understands that after such rejection and brutality, he wants to be issued an invitation. A request. One that allows him to decide whether such a community should be graced with his investment, his presence, his gift. It seems to me only fair.
His final vision is that he will “astonish people”. That his children and grandchildren will sit all around him in respect, and look to him for wisdom. Again, it is only fair.