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Why We Need Rudolph

Listening to the carol and watching the classic movie this season was different for me this year. It’s always been a fun story I’ve enjoyed in its traditional forms, yet some concepts that had tickled the back of my mind for the past few years really rose to the surface due to the timing and prevalence of certain circumstances of this particular journey ‘round the sun, both in the world and in my personal life. To what do these concepts in Rudolph refer? Chiefly, the presence of those in the world classified as disabled or “not quite normal;” their right to be in the world; and the benefits – yes, benefits – they can have on all those around them.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose.”

One thing is clear about Rudolph – he’s of a different sort. I can draw a comparison most authoritatively to those in my life who either have Down’s Syndrome, are on the autism spectrum, or have a diagnosed mental disorder, but even those considered “normal” have some kind of shiny-ness about them – something different, possibly even alarming, possibly challenging to deal with, but a feature totally unique to them that, in part, makes them who they are.

“All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.”

I don’t think there’s a human being who can claim they haven’t been picked on in some way. And the most stark the contrast of a person’s “shiny” feature, the worse they’re going to get it. How cruel especially for those who might have Down’s, autism, or a mental or physical disorder – they more than anyone, usually, have hearts of gold.

“They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.”

The “shinier” people are, the harder it is for them just to get by in the world, let alone do so comfortably. School, the workplace, social events, even among family sometimes, they are often not given a place. Far more grievous than that, however, is the fact they are often denied a position in the “reindeer” game of life before they have even arrived. This hits especially hardest, again, for the shiniest among us when it is seen they have, or have a high chance of having, a certain condition while still in utero. Many people (no, you are not being judged if you are one of them) feel/think/believe it is more merciful to spare a person such a life rather than push them into it.

“Then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa came to say, “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Are people who have special needs burdensome on their families, friends, and society at large? That’s one way to look at them. But if people with disabilities are not given a chance – at life, at work, at play, at dignity – they will not be able to be there for others when others, maybe even us, need them.

Few people I’ve met are as selfless, devoted, and diligent as my autistic brother; he’s been a measuring stick to me all my life of how I aspire to be, and a reminder of how disabled I am compared to him in the things that really matter in life. The rough, unkempt exterior of my autistic brother-in-law contains a deep, reflective soul who composes profound poems of God and nature. At a recent crossroads in my life, I met a man my age whose psychological issues had him disruptive, inappropriate, belligerent, and threatening all the time, except in his brief lucid moments when he passed on a nugget or two of wisdom that I really needed to hear just then. And my niece and other acquaintances with Down’s Syndrome – well, if they had been aborted, the world would be missing some bright beacons of unconditional love. (Unconditional stubbornness, also, but unconditional love.)

Are such disadvantaged people needed in the world? Are they necessary? Are their burdens worth bearing? Ask a child. Ask them if the world would have been better off without Rudolph.

“Then how the reindeer loved him as they shouted out with glee, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you’ll go down in history!”

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