Sometimes I can get so caught up in myself that I almost forget or make excuses for not stopping and paying attention.
But this weekend I did.
On Saturday, after eight months of planning, rehearsing, learning, and developing, the 2009 cast of Special Gifts Theatre put on their production of “Cinderella.”
Special Gifts Theatre (or SGT, as its known), is a theatre company for children with special needs in a musical production for the stage.
The childrens needs that range from Downs Syndrome to sensory disorders to Aspergers Disorder to severe Autism. Many have extreme difficulty with social interaction, some are verbally limited, most are cognitively limited.
My sister Ellen, who once was a peer volunteer, and has worked up to being a Site Coordinator and Supervisor for the Aids (I’ll explain). And this year, my sister Devin was an aide.
So basically how it works is that each young special needs child is paired up with a peer mentor – mostly elementary school or high schoolers – who then shadow them as they learn lines, understand the play, etc. These mentors are also on stage with each child during that actual production too.
It’s hard to wrap the mind around the enormity of a task – taking upwards of 50 special needs children and working with them for eight months to not only learn lines, coordinate dance moves, and try to understand the concept of a musical, but to break through the many, many developmental barriers – it’s almost impossible to imagine if your not sitting there.
Now, Ellen has been doing this for years, and Devin was a newbie this year. I knew that every week they went to their rehearsals and their meetings after long days of teaching in their own classroom (Devin) or running her own business (Ellen), but I will admit that I often don’t think all that much about it.
But then, sitting there at the back of a packed theatre, watching parents cry to see their autistic daughter dancing in a costume with her mentor and singing along – it makes your heart want to explode. Literally. It feels like a heart attack.
It made me stop ruminating about my selfish bullshit, and appreciate something bigger then my life. Things that you or I do hundreds of times day without even thinking - like smile in reciprocity, or hold a hand, or move our bodies to music - are milestones for the children.
Now THAT'S perspective.
It’s a challenge to sit through the whole thing and not cry. I have yet to do it. This year, I watched with my mother, who was attending her first production. And at the end, as we participated in the standing ovation, my mom turned to me, tears spilling over, trying to talk, but finally just waving a hand in front of her face - a loss for words.
So in addition to just spreading the word about this program, my whole point in talking about this is to really say how deeply proud I am of my sisters and the amount of work they put into this.
I am so proud to know that this program exists, and so honored to know two of people that are part of the reason it does. The physical and emotional commitment to helping put on a musical production in this manner is truly something to admire.
Like I said – it’s so easy for me to turn so into myself that I forget all the good that happens around me.
And my family helped remind me.