Independence is a big deal. When you are disabled, it can take on overtones that non-disabled people may not hear. Is ‘independence’ doing more with less money? (See the so-called Personal Independence Payment that replaced the more adequate Disability Living Allowance.) Does it mean doing it all on your own, for better or worse, whether things are arranged to allow you to or not? Or does it mean perhaps having the capacity to do things or not if you would like to?
Disability History Month happens to overlap the Christian season of Advent. In Advent we may pay particuclar attention to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She takes centre stage as we wait expectantly for the coming to Jesus at Christmas.
In the story of the Annunciation, when Mary is told by the archangel Gabriel that she will be the mother of God’s Son, Mary is portrayed as playing a pivotal role in that momentous event. She is described as ‘troubled–the Greek word is also used for deliberation, for weighing things up. Mary does not acquiesse unquestioningly. She weighs up the wager. Should she say yes to becoming pregnant before she is married, running the risk of being driven out of her town, perhaps even stoned to death for adultery?
This is a stark moment of independence for a disabled person. True Mary is not ‘disabled’ in our sense–and we may recall that ‘pregnancy’ is a ‘protected characteristic’ in the law alongside ‘disability’, and not included in ‘disability’. But she has been disabled by her society which discriminates stringently against unmarried pregnant women. She is certainly at a distinct disadvantage. I think Mary shows real independence, however. By taking the leap of imagination of believing the angel, she finds the strength to envision that she CAN take this strange event and run with it, or let it run away with her.
Mary is not ‘independent’ in the sense of being left on her own, exactly. She still has her relations–she goes to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth who is among the first to acknowledge the momentous event: ‘Who am I that the mother of my Lord should visit me?’ She is not ‘independent’ in the sense of having to do more with less, a la the Personal Independence Payment. Mary is however ‘independent’ in that she stnds in a pivotal position. She holds the power to decide, to determine what happens. Perhaps disabled people here can find not just a sort of model but a special ally, someone we know stands with us because she has been there, and still is there, disadvantaged yet filled with prophetic insight and courage, made beautiful with God’s transforming beauty, pronouncing the topsy-turvy message of Christ, divinity recongising lowliness, making the last first.