When Ideas Become Practice

During WYA North America’s Emerging Leaders Conference this weekend, we engaged in dialogue about the difference between seeing the person as a subject with inherent worth, versus an object to be used for various ends.  One high schooler noted that her peers are always seeking to be different, but that “different” is really just the same as everyone else.  Our wonderful speakers and panelists encouraged the participants to dare to speak up for the person, because we never know the impact it will have on the world around us.  The post below, written by one ELC attendant, offers an example of what this kind of courage and commitment looks like in practice.

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Any parent would be proud to watch his or her son competing in a city-wide race and finishing in the top-half of the pack. Not only did Andrew Colson do that, but he ran the mile behind his sister Valerie, whose wheelchair he pushed the whole way. And let me tell you, Mr. and Mrs. Colson were beaming.

Since Andrew and Valerie were young, their sibling relationship has been special. Valerie has faced significant challenges since her birth 14 years ago; she suffers from seizures, cannot walk and can only utter an occasional “hi”. When her brother looks at her, however, he sees much more than her illness. Andrew knows Valerie as his beautiful, irreplaceable sister who laughs, plays and brightens his day. Andrew sees Valerie through the eyes of unconditional love.

I have been blessed to spend a great deal of time with the Colson family over the last couple years as a caretaker for Valerie. This summer, I had the opportunity to care for Valerie while also completing the WYA Track A Training. These two seemingly unrelated, separate elements of my summer coincided to teach me a great deal about the dignity of the human person and the culture of life which upholds it.

In the training I studied the history, philosophy and implications of inherent human dignity, and in Valerie I saw that dignity lived out. My time with Valerie and her family confirmed and gave life to the topics I studied in the training. Valerie embodies the beauty, dignity and freedom of the human person which the WYA proclaims. In order to understand Valerie, a person must encounter her, witness the wonder of her personality, see how she has been formed by the love of her family and caretakers, and see also how her life has touched and transformed countless hearts.

One of my favorite pieces that I read and wrote about as part of the training was Martin Buber’s I and Thou. In this work, Buber explores human relationship mutual subjectivity.  Through the “I-Thou” relationship man sees that he is not self-sufficient, rather, he depends upon others as they depend upon him. This type of relationship deeply affects how “others” are understood, not as a crowd to experience but rather as unique, inherently valuable persons to be encountered. This type of relationship permeates the Colson family, and it provides a window to an awareness of human dignity.

Working with Valerie has showed me that promoting a culture of life involves committing to love the persons in our midst. Protecting human dignity does not necessarily look like setting out to save humanity. Upholding a culture of life in solidarity with one another looks like pushing a sister’s wheelchair across a finish line.

By Marie Wathen, a certified member of WYA North America