Special educators, physical therapists, occupational therapists and other professionals improve lives for people living with disabilities. For example, they assist people in learning to use adaptive equipment (like a white cane), to become proficient in a skill (such as climbing up and down stairs), and to learn study skills to do well in school (such as skills to compensate for having attention deficit disorder). My wife is so committed to providing assistance and training to young people with disabilities that she became a special education teacher 16 years ago. When I have conversations with people from countries that do not have such services, these people express appreciation and admiration that such habilitation and rehabilitation services are so readily available in Canada and the United States.
Much of this work aims to help people achieve their highest level of independence. For my wife, who teaches students with severe, multiple disabilities, she and the paraprofessionals in her room may work on helping a student bring a fork full of food to her mouth independently. An occupational therapist may work with someone who had a stroke to help him learn to drive again independently. A physical therapist may help a woman who had shoulder surgery move her arms so that she can do her hair independently. Feeding, driving, and doing hair yourself are worthy goals, and when people reach them the and their loved ones celebrate “independence day”!
But just what is “independence?" How much would I eat if I only ate the food I produce myself? Very little – check out the picture of our garden above. Would I drive a car if I had to build it from scratch? It would be impossible for me to mine the iron ore, collect the rubber and other raw materials, turn all of this into parts, and put it all together to make a car. Even something as “simple” as doing my hair requires a comb and shampoo and a hair cut all done by other people. Even if I were a hermit, living off the land in a wilderness, I would depend on rain and sunshine and the abundance of creation to produce the food and shelter I would need to survive. Independence is neither possible nor desirable.
I depend on people to grow coffee, build roads, plant and harvest food, refine crude oil, build furniture, turn silicon into microchips, make paper, . . . you get the picture. Even more importantly, I depend on and need my wife for her companionship, friendship, love, affirmation, and a whole lot more. I depend on my family, friends, co-workers, and fellow church members to build community, share dreams, laughs, ideas, and meals. I need people with whom I belong who will hold me accountable, push me, reassure me, and love me as I am.
Most of all, I depend on God’s Word to guide me, God’s Spirit to be with me, and God’s one and only Son so that as I believe in him I will not perish but have everlasting life. In God I live and move and have my being. God has given me life, abilities, energy, friends and family. I have gained nothing in my life independently. I’m so blessed by all the people and stuff I’m dependent on. As the apostle John wrote many years ago, love recognizes our own dependence on others and on God and in turn reaches out both to God and to others.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 Jn 4:7–12)
No one lives independently. We are all dependent on other people and God. Let’s celebrate dependence day every day.