Today as I was walking to worship after breakfast I passed a woman who had a note attached to her nametag. It read, “Special Needs”. Now, I understand why she has it, she had a knee brace and probably needs help with issues of accessibility around the campus, and the disability group wants others to be aware of the need to heed her requests for a seat, a ramp, an arm, whatever, and to offer help. And yet I couldn’t help but cringe at how she was “marked” as different--“special” but not necessarily in a good way. And I was reminded of how we so often want to mark others as different or special: “He’s the new guy.” “She’s never been here before; she doesn’t know better.” However it is that we choose to mark people—sure, in some ways, those markers help us attend to their needs, to pay attention to how our own actions affect theirs, and yet at the same time, we are distinguishing, separating, and in some ways, alienating those same people.
Unfortunately, today I don’t have a “good alternative” to suggest. The only thing of importance from this is my added awareness about these issues, and hopefully a dose of awareness for you as well.