Friday, March 20, 2009

Dear Mr. President

Dear President Obama,

I couldn't stay awake last night to watch your TV appearance on Leno, even though I wanted to. I am exhausted to the point of illness for the following reasons:

~ I have spent 38 hours this week showing houses in an economy where I am fully aware that my efforts may never turn into a paycheck.
~ I spent 8 days before that learning to appreciate my country more while I was serving in a 3rd world country to help build a concrete block church so that Haitian refugees can worship God, and playing with kids who do not have toys.
~ I am 11 days from taking my own 2-year-old son with Down syndrome to a hospital to have open-heart surgery to repair a defect that is common among children born with Ds. This surgical repair will make it possible for Shawn not only to live, but to be competitive and active without overworking his heart and becoming easily fatigued.

Mr. President, it is sad that you likened your bowling game to something beneath yourself, such as a "less-than-perfect" individual with physical and/or mental needs trying to be competitive in a sport. The saddest part is that you and others who make such minimalizing comments against some of our world's most incredible and precious people, influences others to think they can do the same, and that it is without pain to the people who are affected. The person with physical and/or mental challenges competing in the S.O. has such drive, determination, hope, joy, spirit, respect, courage, and love. The man with Down syndrome who bowls 3 perfect games in a row, has overcome far more to perfect that ability than any pro competitor earning a gross salary. The Special Olympics track competitor who comes in last has more respect and grace toward his/her winning competitor than anyone competing in the super-human games. The young people training and competing in the Special Olympics are not secretly enhancing their performance by using steriods to cross the finish line, or celebrating with marajuana after signing millions of dollars of endorcement deals. And finally....they don't care. They just want to belong. They want to have fun. They want to be loved, praised, accepted, celebrated, honored, and respected. You know what Barack, their goals are no different than yours, but their hearts are in the right place....even if a surgical repair is required to keep it beating.

Mr. President, my son did not hear what you said. He is 2 years old and he was asleep. But I heard what you said. I watched it back today online. I know you didn't mean to stick your foot in your mouth and you didn't mean to criticize an entire sect of our population. I know that you didn't mean to knock your popularity ratings down a notch and that you didn't desire to offend a single person. I know that you didn't use the word "retarded" and I know that all you really meant to do was to be humble about the fact that your bowling game has room for improvement. Your intention was to show humility and maybe even bring a light-heartedness to your message where the challenges you face as President, and the challenges we are facing today as over-spent, over-extended Americans, could use a little light-heartedness. But you should have known better than to ever make light of a person with special needs. You offended every mother, father, brother, sister, special education teacher, cousin, neighbor, friend, church member, and every other advocate for people with special needs.

I am a mother of 3 incredible boys. But my youngest son with Down syndrome, Shawn...HE will need me FOREVER and I cannot guarantee that I will be here as long as he is here. He may never have the opportunity to earn a living with a respectable salary. He will never be Michael Phelps or Carl Lewis or President of the United States. He may never be televised and celebrated. But his leaking heart is FULL of love and acceptance. His eyes see no discrepancies in a single other human being on this planet. His lips will speak simple and tender truth, because he may never have the capacity to manipulate or lie. His little legs will run the race that is set out for him, even though you might always be able to run faster. And as his mommy, I will run beside him, or behind him, or I will even carry him across the finish line because his joy and the joy of my other children, is my number one priority for their lives, along with teaching them to absolutely love the God that created them, in His perfect image.

You have already apologized. But you did more than offend. You have shown me that you may not be as sensitive as I thought you were. You may be not as intelligent as I thought you were. And you may not be as trustworthy as I thought you were. You didn't just make a regretable remark, you revealed something about your true character. Good luck with that in 2012.


Melissa Irwin
Mother of Future Special Olympic Competitor
Nashville, TN


Michelle Brinson said...

You have no idea how much I wish the President, along with the rest of the world could read this letter. (I write this with tears streaming down my face.)

It's interesting to me that on the same show (GMA) where I heard about this comment Obama made on Leno, I also saw a story where his wife Michelle spoke to a group of kids in one of the lowest incomes in the country in DC and share with them how she was made fun of in school for "sounding white."

You know, regardless of our race, our religion, our looks... or whatever it is that makes us uniquely "us" - no one wants to be made fun of... everyone wants to be accepted, understood, appreciated for who they are. And any time we turn away from what makes each person special and make a joke, poke fun, say something insensitive... I can only image the sadness in the heart of Jesus... because He understands and it breaks His heart.

My prayer - for me, for you... for each of us... is that our hearts would break each time we see something like this... for in the day that we grow cold... we will no longer be on the path to "love them like Jesus."

Thank you for sharing this with me.

Renee Little said... many people do not realize the power of their words. Perhaps that is why the bible reminds us time and again to hold our toungue and control our words.

This will be a BIG lesson for our president and hopefully our nation...a lesson we all needed.

Anonymous said...

True and worth reading, over and over again!

Unfortunately, our president has a history of degrading those that he either disagrees (the bible hugging gun toting in PA) with or apparently sees as inferior like those in the Special Olympics.

Thank you for speaking out!

Melissa Irwin said...

I am so grateful for the supportive comments. Blogging is absolutely a gift as a free forum for free speech. I have submitted the letter to not because I expect or desire a response, but just so that more opinions are heard in opposition of his insensitivity toward people with special needs. We each have a voice. I'm using mine today.

Anonymous said...

WOW...Wonderfully written.

James said...

I thought it was pretty funny.

Melissa Irwin said...

Well James, you are certainly entitled to your opinion....and after all, there is no law against being insensitive and poking fun at Special Olympics competitors.

James said...

Well, see, that's where I think there's a lot of sensationalism going on here. I don't see Obama being insensitive or poking fun at anyone. I see him making an unpointed joke, much like any one of us would on any given day.

There's a great deal of assumption and exaggeration going on this morning in the media and the blogosphere. Generalizing huge numbers of people with statements such as...

"You offended every mother, father, brother, sister, special education teacher, cousin, neighbor, friend, church member, and every other advocate for people with special needs."

...really only exemplifies the sensationalist, reactionary culture we live in. Speaking as someone who has volunteered in a special needs school and has a cousin severely effected by Down's Syndrome, I take exception. I'm not offended because the joke is not offensive. Does that make me insensitive? I doubt it.

The reality? Storm in a tea cup.

Pastor Mark said...

Of course I am in no way in favor of any comments that demean other people, intentional or unintentional - but I am a bit confused... you say that you know "he didn't intend to" and in paragraph 4 you seem to clearly understand his heart, but then you end by saying that he is not sensitive, intelligent, or trustworthy.

Is it possible that this assessment is too harsh? Being someone who also speaks for a living (though in no way as prominent as the President), I know how difficult it is to say everything perfectly. Many times I am later horrified by my own words when I hear or read them later, knowing that what I said did not communicate what I feel or believe. As all people, I am a work in progress - and that includes my ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

I truly believe that the only thing that he is guilty of in this instance is being a human being who has not had the same life experience as you and because of that made word choices that hurt. That does not automatically show where his heart is - it simply says that his experience in that area is not as deep as yours.

I think more grace is in order in this case.

Tam said...

i happen to understand what youre saying. what is in our hearts will flow out of us.

he is everyones president in america. even the ones with special needs. so to say what he said, jokingly or not, is indeed insensitive. and you my friend, more than any one of us here, have every right to respond like this.

Melissa Irwin said...

I knew there would be opposition here when I decided to post this, but decided it was necessary to show the perspective from the majority of people who are in my situation.

My post did not assume to know the heart of the president, but rather to assume the best rather than the worst about his intentions. It is better to assume innocence than to charge him for intentionally being rude. I wrote that in the fairest way that I could, given my outrage.

James, if you were not offended, then as you demonstrated in your comment, you would be the exception, not the norm.

And Pastor Mark, I did not state that Obama is not sensitive, intelligent or trustworthy. I suggested that he is not AS sensitive, AS intelligent, or AS trustworthy as I had previously given him credit for being.

Grace is absolutely necessary here, which is why I expressed my opinion on this matter as a mother by sheding some light on my life and my son's life, rather than just posting a blog that would call Obama names, or make accusations as to him having a dark heart, or something along those lines.

He didn't just offend me. He offended millions. And the people he didn't seem to offend, according to the Washington post comments today....he successfully gave the truly brutal commenters justification for their cruelties.

It is okay to speak truth and speak feelings when it is fair, which I believe I have done. A lack of grace would suggest that I have no intention of forgiving the man, which is not true, at all.

I have to fight hard for the rights of my son, which is not made easier by the most influential living man in the world to make an off the cuff comment demeaning my son's position in the world. Yep, he's human. He is a televised, celebrated, honored, influential, powerful human man with an obligation to respect the rights, needs, and challenges of the people.

Pastor Mark said...

By the way, I didn't want to leave before I told you how much I love your heart. I have not been here before (got sent here by someone's comment on Twitter), so I poked around a bit. Thank you for doing what you do. You are greatly needed in this world. Clone yourself and send some to Tulsa for me would you? :)

inWorship said...

James and Mark,

I think what Melissa has done here is to voice her hurt as best she can.

James, Are you insensitive? Probably not, but definitely to Melissa, who has been hurt.

I don't think Melissa and the media can be wrapped up in this together. Words are that simple. Words hold depth and life of meaning and what Obama said (whether it was him or not) is offensive to some and not to others.

Melissa, I think you have voiced your hurst, but I do agree that I don't believe Obama has shown us anymore than he is a human like all of us. Fallable, mistake ridden and often saying the wrong things. People have placed Obamam on a pedestal that ia unhealthy. He is now seen as one of us. The media dna many people don't know what to do with that.

The key here is to all learn from it in some way. I know that if I was standing in a room with a down syndrome family and I said that, I would feel awful. I would never have intended to hurt. It was a more. But, I would agree it was inappropriate and insensitive. Melissa you've called this out. Not just to Obama, but to all of us.

Melissa Irwin said...

Thanks, Pastor Mark. I love the Lord Jesus with as much of my human heart and soul as I can! I am not perfect, but I desire to be like Him. I try to listen and hear Him, and then I try and obey. My heart gets cleaner everyday because I pray this! "Create in me a clean heart, Oh Lord, my God, and renew a right spirit within me."

If I have wrongly judged the President, I'll be convicted and dealt with, and I welcome that.

Melissa Irwin said...

I welcome all comments. If I thought I was the only one with a fair opinion, I would simply delete the comments that I don't like. Life doesn't work that way.

It was a metaphor, I agree. And my desire this entire day, here, on facebook and elsewhere, has been to show that it is hurtful and harmful, and that people need to be aware of this.

Even on my mission trip last week, I counted at least 3 times that some of my team members lightheartedly used the word "retarded" to make a joke. I NEVER challenged those comments. They all knew I have a son with Down syndrome. I try, when possible and wihtout being threatening or condemning, to share with others that they could possibly use another word to get their comedic point across. Much of the population is desensitized to that word, or to the imitations of a mentally challenged person, or in this case....comparing oneself to retarded person trying to bowl a ball.

Imus refers to nappy hair, generalizing black women, and he gets in massive amounts of trouble. A joke about a black person, or a gay person, or a dead person, etc., is deemed insensitive, and/or racial, discrimiating, sexist, etc. I know countless families who consider off the cuff remarks about the Special Olympics to be just as damaging and offensive. What better time to prove this point, then the day after the President makes such a remark.

I promised from day 1 that I would be an advocate for my son and others. To sit back and say nothing would be cowardly. If I can be part of the movement to bring a reality and an appreciation to families who are affected by all range of disabilities, then it is my duty to do what I can....and I have chosen my blog to do just this.

Thanks for all of the comments.

Pastor Mark said...

:) <-- ok, these things are lame, but I wanted for you to somehow see the smile you put on my face...

Don't you EVER lose your passion. It is there to change the world in a particular way for God's Kingdom. The Body needs you. Thank you for opening your heart up for us to have this discussion - it is healthy for all of us.

One thought that I had this morning that I think is worth considering as well is this: Although we all need to continue dialing in our ability to choose words correctly, it is also important to remember that not everyone hears the same thing. When I heard what the Pres said, it would never enter my mind to treat people with special needs with anything less than the highest respect. Because I am convinced that his heart is in the right place it never occurs to me to hear offense where I know none is intended. It simply doesn't register because I am not looking for mistakes - rather I am trying to hear what he is trying to say - not what he's not trying to say. (Whew! That idea is hard to express - not sure I did it right - what a great example in itself!)

My point is to encourage you. Yes, there is a small group of people in the world who may actually hear his words and act negatively toward special needs people because of them - but tens of millions of people heard what he was trying to say and didn't even blink. The work of folks like you is working. Millions "get it" now - and even when words need massaging, it's ultimately the actions that count most.

I know there is much work left to do on behalf of people with special needs, but I think most of it is simply educating us on what we can do to help - not trying to get us to care. Most already do. They just don't know where to start or how to express what is in their heart because they are new at it. And in being new, many of us say things like the Pres said.

Forgive the rambling... I guess I should know better than to think while I'm typing...

Thank you again for being vulnerable. This conversation itself is helpful. Thanks for hosting it. I am definitely learning a lot.

Melissa Irwin said...

Pastor Mark, I am on track with you. I am!

My ONLY conflicting opinion in this case with you is that it is not a small group of people who were offended. It is actually a very very very very large group. Whether down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, blind, deaf, MS, MD, cystic fibrosis, celiac....and on and on......millions of people are catagorized as "special needs" and those millions of people have families, friends, neighbors, teachers, co-workers, etc. Almost everyone either knows someone or is related to a family who could be damaged by such remarks.

Thank you brother, for your encouragement. I appreciate your honesty and your tenderness toward adressing me. I am not unteachable and I am not a person who subscribes to a closed heart. I'm just here, doing life, and trying not to be a coward.

Pastor Mark said...


Look at what I said though:
"Yes, there is a small group of people in the world who may actually hear his words and act negatively toward special needs people because of them."

I didn't say a small group were offended.

I said there is a small group that would actually take negative action based on his words.

Here's a tough thing that I am still in the process of learning: Being offended is a choice that I make. No one can force that on me. When someone says something that stings me and no sting was intended, it is an opportunity for me to examine why I felt stung.

Here's a great example. I have many close friends from different races and cultures. Because we know each other well, we don't have to watch our verbal step on things related to race and culture because we know our hearts. In fact, because we know each other's hearts, we don't even notice words that others may react to because we know that no offense is intended. Because of this grace that we extend to one another we can communicate far more effectively and freely without worrying about language nuances. They would never say something intended to hurt me so therefore I rarely hear any.

I have made a choice to not be hurt by things that aren't intended to hurt.

In this way my friends and I are totally free to grow and learn without having to feel attacked by one another during the learning process.

I have never met a person who honestly intends to hurt people with special needs. They just don't know any better when they do. Maybe you have, but I suspect there are in the great minority.

If we would decide to not be offended on the front end - and then simply assume that most don't know better and want to be educated if given the chance, I think the world would be a much better place in MANY areas.

Make sense?

Calfzilla said...

I was moved deeply by your letter. I too have a child with DS who underwent open heart surgery when he was 6 months old. His name is Jeremiah. He just turned 3 in February. He is one of the greatest joys of my life. It is hard to explain that to people sometimes, but it is so true. He has taught me more about the value of life than any other person. He has a pace maker that beats his heart for him, but we are praying for that to be healed. The electrical system in his heart was interrupted during surgery (Heart block - very rare), so they installed the pace maker. Praise God for pace makers.

We have a ministry called Global Response Network (GRN),located in Somerset, KY. We work in southern Sudan and other nations where Christians are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. You can see and read more about that if you wish @ . You can also see and read about our Jeremiah in the blog portion of the site (You might have to dig a little). My wife and I will be praying for you guys in the days ahead... I mean it.

Bless you sister!
Tom Zurowski

Melissa Irwin said...

Mark - yes, makes sense. And I also agree that I read your statement incorrectly, and you are right...that the President's comments would not cause many to necessarily be hateful or disrespectful. I'm still with you.

FYI, there have been movements on Myspace, Facebook and even in the blogworld, where a handful of intentionally cruel people have made it their personal hobby to make fun of challenged individuals. And not long ago, 2 women with Down syndrome were strapped to bombs and tossed into crowded areas of Irag, and exploded....why? because their lives were not valuable. There is more hate out their towards people who would qualify for the special olympics, than you would think.

As for being thing I never directly stated that I was offended. I'm one of the ones who realizes that he most likely was innocent and meant no harm in his statement. That doesn't change the fact that the statement was harmful. I don't want him to apologize to me or my son...we're good. I want him to learn from this situation, and further, I want all of the people who are paying attention to learn from this situation. People with disabilities deserve more respect that to be likened to a clumsy, poor performing, inadequate, athelete. I would love for this situation would turn him into an advocate and bring about positive, social, awareness.

I'm taking a position and I'm trying to make a difference in my small community...but thankfully by the Grace of God, I am aware that my feelings in many situations, are my choice. Even the head of the Special Olympics said today to allow this to be a teachable moment. I'm taking part in the teaching....and I'm also trying to learn.

Just as in the people on my mission trip last week meant no harm in referring to people and or siutaions as retarded, I'm aware of the innocence.

But let's disect his comment for a moment...he said that his bowling game was "like watching the special olympics". Innocent? Yes, very most likely. But what is the visual? I've been to the SO...and I know what he was referring to. He was referring to the uncoordinated mess, the confusion of which way to run, the imbalance of a man not steady on his feet, the embarrassment of not really being able to compete. If you imagine his statement, see a bunch of sub-par humans dancing without rhythm or a large group of people who can just get together in community with their own kind because it's the only place they can. If you say your game is not good, and you liken it to the special are saying that the game of these individuals is not good.enough...nothing to write home about, a disaster, a waste of time, perhaps. It's a metaphor...but not a nice one.

I hope that you know that I am not arguing. I'm not even mad or uneasy. I am learning to both find and create harmony on this earth that God never really intended to be our home. I am supposed to be in this world, but not of this world. I'm not afraid of being unpopular. I'm not even afraid to look like a fool....if my goal and outcome is in anyway pleasing to God....I'm willing to look like a fool to the world.

This has been an interesting mental and emotional exercise for me. Your comments have been the most critical at causing me to think. Obviously, I need to slow down a little more when I read.

Melissa Irwin said...

Tom, bless you brother and thank you for your prayers. I look forward to spending some online time with your family and getting to know you, and about your outreach in Sudan. I'm blessed to have you here today!

Paul J. said...

Well said. Thank you.

Kaira said...

Beautifully written, Melissa. I support your sentiments fully.

God bless you as you raise that sweet babe.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, what an intelligent and moving response to a major faux pas. I read your words to my husband, weeping most of the time. Fortunately, he understands my teary words.

You are an amazing example of our Savior. I do hope that Mr. Obama is shown the words you've so passionately shared. I agree, an apology to you or Shawn won't change anything, but I hope that rather than just hearing people spout off, he can "hear" from a woman who loves Jesus, loves her son and loves her nation enough to call him on his words.

Granted, he was on Leno. (Not, in my opinion, a presidential thing to do anyway.)I'm certain the entire environment is very witty and light. I'm sure he did not fully think what he said.

Therein lies the problem. He did not fully think before he spoke. That's something we all need to learn. I hope he does.

Thank you.

P.S. My husband was recently in Cabaret, Haiti, helping with an "orphanage" of about 125 children. He and the six men with him were brought to tears by being able to serve them their ONE meal for the day and not having enough of the peanuts & raisins snack to go around. I'm waiting on God's go-ahead for my trip to go and love on them.

Tony Safina said...

Did everyone commenting here stay up to watch Leno last night, or are some relying on hearsay and taking the President's comments (full text here: out of context? Keep in mind Leno tries to be a funny guy and in the context of the show, so was President Obama trying to keep it light.
I would have been very peeved myself if Obama had made a joke about disabled people in a State of the Union address, ...VERY PEEVED!!! But this wasn't a State of the Union address, it was the Tonight Show with Jay Leno!!!

Melissa Irwin said...

So it is okay to make fun of the Special Olympics on Jay Leno, but not during a public address?

Hmmmm...well, there's a new opinion to consider.

Everything he says and does is a public address, considering who he is and who is listening.

Tony Safina said...

I should add not everyone agrees with everything a President says and does. Take George Bush for example, many people disgreed with both things he said and things he did. When President Obama said on national TV last night, on Jay Leno, that he was rooting for North Carolina in the NCAA games this year, not my alma mater, Louisville, I was a bit peeved, but I sucked it up and overlooked it. Even a President has a right to a personal preference in sports, and I suppose he has a right to express his preference as well. We need to grant the guy some slack, ...just not as much as we granted Bush.

Tony Safina said...

I should qualify my last comment: I voted for George Bush twice. I only voted for Obama once. :-)

Marcia said...

I would hate to think that my whole character would be judged by one brief moment of sticking my foot in my mouth. I have done that many, many times... thank goodness it wasn't on national tv.

Pres. Obama must've felt horrible as he immediately called Tim Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics to apologize. This was reported early this morning:

"Even before the taped program aired, Obama had already issued an apology.

On Air Force One, Obama called the chairman of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver, and apologized.

"He expressed his disappointment and he apologized in a way that I think was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population," Shriver said Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

He said the president's apology was "very sincere" and that Obama had extended an invitation to Special Olympics athletes to visit the White House to bowl or play basketball with him. "

I am truly sorry that you were upset so much by our President's remark and that you think that one remark showed his "true" character.... but my dad always taught me that it's not the mistakes you make that show your character, but what you do to correct those mistakes. Although none of us can claim to "know his heart", I do believe that it was just a brief lapse in judgement in a light-hearted environment and that he truly DOES care and IS sensitive. If he wasn't sensitive, he wouldn't have felt the need to apologize.

I am not in any way trying to discount your feelings here... I can't possibly understand how you feel as I can't walk in your shoes. I just felt the need to defend our President, because I DO believe he is a good man, who used a bad choice of words.

International Poverty and Justice (IPJ) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire said...

"You revealed something about your true character."

I think that statement is a little over the top. We ALL make mistakes and say things badly sometimes. I absolutely agree that the comment was hurtful and inappropriate. But so did O'bama. He apologized, sincerely, and he did so immediately. People agree that he wasn't being trying to be intentionally hurtful by the comment.

I have to agree with Pastor Mark. I think the real issue here is that O'bama spoke poorly and insensitively, most likely b/c he hasn't had the same life experience as you or others who grew up around individuals with disabilities (as I did). But think about how many times you or I have been guilty of the same thing in another context (whether racism, classism, nationalism, etc.)

Considering O'bama's humble apology and apparent remorse over his hurtful words, I'd hope that we (especially Christians) would go above and beyond to show him the grace we'd like to be shown when we say hurtful and insensitive things (which we ALL do).

And I'd hope that we'd put our greatest efforts not into criticizing or exaggerating the situation (like claiming that an ignorant choice of words says something deeper about his true character) but instead to encourage everyone to use this as an important lesson in remembering to love, honor, and respect those individuals that society marginalizes and deems less worthy, for whatever reason-- whether they be physical disabilities, mental or emotional issues, poverty or financial issues, etc.

Melissa Irwin said...

A mother of a child with Down syndrome or other extreme special needs is obviously going to respond differently to the comments made by the President than a person in different shoes.

I know all about the apology and I appreciated it. I know he seems remourseful and I appreciate it. I know that I have character flaws as well. None of this changes his comment made in poor taste and none of this changes the way myself and millions of other moms are reminded that our children are viewed as a joke by many, and now we've heard the man that we have trusted our nation to, CRACK one.

Melissa said...

I *thought* I had posted a comment earlier, but I had done it using my phone that I'm still not adept at emailing with.

I just want to say how terrific this comment thread has been to read. Very thought provoking.

As a special ed teacher I have an affinity for the overlooked and underappreciated in our world. I can relate to your disappointment in his comment---and I, too, was surprised in his choice of words.

That being said, I also hope that the next time I stick my foot in my mouth it is with someone as gracious as you. Your email, while strongly worded, in my opinion, was also very understanding of his humanity.

No one can fully understand your plight as Shawn's momma--his struggles, your dreams for him, etc. Your boy is blessed to have you as his mom to advocate for him and teach others the value of everyone's contribution regardless of their physical or mental prowess.

I have to admit that I'm pretty biased about you. You're a tremendous individual with a heart for God and His people. Your responses to opposing views is just one more way you let God live through you. I so appreciated the way you handled yourself when people disagreed with you.

Melissa Irwin said...

Obama is quoted as saying that the Special Olympic atheletes "deserve a lot better than the thoughtless joke I made last night".

Timothy Shriver, the Chairman of the Special Olympics graciously accepted the formal apology made directly by Obama, but Shriver also went on to state, "I think it's important to see that words hurt, and words do matter. And these words that in some respect can be seen as humiliating or a put-down to people with special needs do cause pain, and they do result in stereotypes."

Kristy said...

Your words are beautiful. You said so very eloquently what I could not. I do not have a special needs child, I was not blessed in that way, but I was offended by his remark. Thank you for sharing your perspective. It was very powerful.

Melissa Irwin said...

Thank you sweet Twin M. It is hard to know how and when to be an advocate, when to speak, when to be silent, etc. I don't like hurting peoples feelings and I don't enjoy being disagreed with. I don't particularly get off, on conflict. I'd prefer to be invisible. This is just one of those times I have to take a chance. The good news is that most people who "know" me, understand this post. It is the people who don't know me who are voicing opposition, and I just have to remember that.

I do not want to dishonor God....and I hope I haven't. If I have, He'll convict me and I'll grow from it.

I kinda dig the President, which is probably why it roused me so. If Bush had said this, we all would have just classified him as a monkey.

Melissa Irwin said...

Thank you sweet Twin M. It is hard to know how and when to be an advocate, when to speak, when to be silent, etc. I don't like hurting peoples feelings and I don't enjoy being disagreed with. I don't particularly get off, on conflict. I'd prefer to be invisible. This is just one of those times I have to take a chance. The good news is that most people who "know" me, understand this post. It is the people who don't know me who are voicing opposition, and I just have to remember that.

I do not want to dishonor God....and I hope I haven't. If I have, He'll convict me and I'll grow from it.

I kinda dig the President, which is probably why it roused me so. If Bush had said this, we all would have just classified him as a monkey.

Sarah said...

Melissa, I love your passion, and the way you can help me see another perspective. I was particularly moved by these words:

"His lips will speak simple and tender truth, because he may never have the capacity to manipulate or lie. His little legs will run the race that is set out for him, even though you might always be able to run faster."

My prayer is that your letter will come to Obama's attention, and that he really is sensitive enough to learn from this mistake.

I know that I am a very sensitive (overly sensitive) person, and yet I still make insensitive remarks now and then. In the past, I said something remarkably thoughtless and hurtful on my blog, and I never would have realized I had offended someone if you hadn't had the courage to confront me graciously and help me see it from the perspective of a hurt mother.

A year ago, I might have made a similar comment to what Obama said, but I guarantee you I wouldn't say something like that now.

Let's pray Obama learns the same lesson from this experience.

Calfzilla said...

Dear Melissa,

Hello, I am Tom's wife, Elli.(please refer to an earlier post) Our son, Jeremiah, is a little boy (three years old) who has Down Syndrome. I agree with the letter that you wrote to President Obama. Thank you for so eloquently expressing what is in my heart,as well, about the statement that he made.
I have read through a few of the other comments that people have made to you. I know that there are some who feel that you have gone overboard with your response. I disagree. I know that many are trying to make excuses for the President saying ..."I'm glad that I am not judged based on one bad comment I've made...He is only human....Cut him some slack"..etc. I think that some people are forgetting that when Barak Obama took the office of the presidency, he became the leader of the free world. He became the most powerful man on the planet. NOTHING that he does goes unnoticed. He is, and should be, held to a higher standard simply because of the position that he holds. It is NOT the same as one of us saying something that we regret later. The whole world is not listening to us when we speak!
Before our son was born, I probably would have been offended by what President Obaama said because even then I knew that it was wrong to joke about/make fun of people with special needs. But, now that we have our precious little boy, it takes on a whole new level of offense. As soon as I looked that little guy in the eyes and held him in my arms, I fell in love. It didn't matter that he had Down Syndrome. He was my son. Period.
I believe that if someone has never been told that their child has Down Syndrome (or any other syndrome, disease, etc.) and that their child has a heart defect, that they may not be able to understand the level of your offense to a "joke".
Every developmental milestone that most parents take for granted have become major events in our home. We have cheered Jeremiah on and watched him as he has struggled to do some of the most "simple" tasks. We are so proud of our son. He works so hard! Someday, if he chooses to do so, it will be a great joy of ours to see him compete in the Special Olympics. We will have known what it took for him to get there!
Thank you for reminding all of us to be sensitive to others. I pray that this incident will remind all of us to treat other people as more important than ourselves.
I will be praying for your little boy, Shawn, and your family as he has open heart surgery. Even though this is a challenging thing to go through, I know that God will give you the grace and peace that you need every step of the way. I look forward to reading a good report about Shawn soon! God bless you!

sjohns.t2 said...

It has only taken Mr. Obama a short 60 days to start showing his true character. I truly hope that the voting public will remember Mr. Obama's many mis-steps when 2012 gets here.

Pro said...

He has hurt many families in America. He needs to say he is sorry in the public, not to an organization.

In addition, someone who claims to have experienced prejudice and stereotypes throughout life, and has written about them in great detail, should be more sensitive and refined from life's lessons.

Furthermore, Obama claimed he was going to have the world think 'highly' of America again. Will this joke help?

For someone who spoke of equality as a creed. Does this joke match that philosophy?

For someone that said he would stand for all people. Does this stand up for those that participate in the special Olympics?

The fact is Obama claimed a higher standard. To much is given, much is required.

Obama has just showed us that 'yes we can' destroy what a campaign stands for with a single joke.

During the campaign for the White House in 2008, the media criticized Palin for being ‘common,’ 'not-polished,' 'not-compassionate' and ‘not presidential.’ However, compare Sarah Palins attitude in this video created three weeks ago for the Special Olympics in Boise, Idaho.

You decide the more ‘presidential’ among them. Watch:

Melissa Irwin said...

To quote my husband, when asked how did you sleep? "I slept like a baby log."

I did sleep well, but I woke up concerned. I have been wide open to a piercing conviction from God regarding my comment about Obama's character. I haven't received one. But I'm still listening.

I am so thankful, (SO THANKFUL) that I woke up to such supportive and warm comments from so many people that I don't know. Thank you.

I'm an advocate, as much as I am a parent. An advocate speaks out or writes, basically to support a person, position, or a cause where the offended person possibly cannot do it themselves. That is what I did.

I don't hate the President. I have a lot of hope for him and our country while he is in office. He might be trying to do too much too soon. He may be taking missteps. He might even be making mistakes, but I know that I am not qualified for the job, and I also know that I'd rather he do something than nothing. I'd just rather he not resort to tasteless jokes about our disabled citizens in the process.

Does this reveal something about his true character? I think it could. But I never said it defined his whole character.

brunettekoala said...

Thank you for this letter. I speak as someone who (had I been American and able to) would most likely have voted to elect Obama as president.

But I also speak as a sister and cousin of 2 boys with asperger's syndrome. I speak as a friend of 2 people with choromosome abnormalities. I speak as someone who went camping with people who had Downs Syndome and other intellectual disabilities as a Girl Guide, Venture Scout and Young Leader. I speak as someone who spent 4 years working in a respite unit caring and supporting adults with learning disabilities some of whom have competed in the paralympics.

I agree fully with your sentiments Melissa. I also don't think he meant to offend, and as other people (including yourself) have said - he was trying to be lighthearted.

My hope is that your president will apologise, learn from this, and move on a little wiser. He could learn much from those who compete in the special olympics. I know I have.

Thank you for being brave enough to post this letter. I'm so sorry for some of the comments that have been posted here towards you.

Brittany said...

Melissa, you have such a way with words. I was so touched reading your letter. I volunteer with special needs children, and love them so dearly. I too am be offended at President Obama's comment. This is just another prime example of how our words can pierce thru the heart. I give props to you for sticking up for your son. You are a wonderful mother and I know he thinks that too.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am Tom and Elli's daughter (please see previous comments above) and the sister of a brother with DS. And also the friend of someone who has a brother who competes in the Special Olymics and has recieved medal upon medal for his achievements. Thank you very much for writing your letter and even more, for posting it on your blog with the knowledge that you would probably get flack for it. And unfortunately, you did. I am very sorry about that. I think that just goes to show how many more people are in this world that are insensitive to others. I understand that the President more than likely did not mean to openly make fun of anyone, but, I agree with you that his comment revealed something about his character. I even went as far as thinking that his "joke" had a touch of prejudice thinking behind it. That may be going overboard and if my thinking is wrong, then I pray that the Lord will forgive me for thinking that way. Needless to say, I was also offended and I, in all humblenss, must express that I have also forgiven him. Jesus forgave me, how could I not forgive my President who derserves honor and respect because of the office he holds no matter how much I disagree with him and wish that he wasn't elected. God bless you!

Melissa Irwin said...

Hi mdlife! Your family is so sweet and dear, and I've enjoyed meeting you all through this unexpected experience.

Thank you for bringing up the point of you are absolutely right. I believe fully that God placed Obama in the high position that he holds, for better or for worse, and I honor that. I do support his authority and pray for his leadership. We have to. I have forgiven him....thankfully! Like the chairman of the Special Olympics said.....this is a teachable experience....and I believe that it happened for a reason.

There is opposition everywhere, and there always will be. It's cool.

I saw pictures of your family....I bet you are a fantastic big sister...and the fact that you, at this young age, already have such spiritual maturity, is astonishing to me. I wish I had understood the power of God's words and conviction in my life, much younger than I did.

Bless you too!

Tony Safina said...

After getting email updates everytime someone added a new comment here and after reading evey one of them, I now see my earlier comments were uncalled for because it wasn't just a joke about a low bowling score.

It seemed funny to me at the time because I didn't realize how hurtful it was to others. Initially I thought people were being excessively vocal only because they were probably sore loser McCain supporters, did not vote for Obama, would love to see President Palin in office more than anything, and would have gotten up in arms over anything they could find that they could make an issue over, ...but now I see I was wrong -- none of my earlier thoughts had a nugget of truth in them -- and I've returned to beg the forgiveness of anyone whom my earlier comments hurt.

Melissa Irwin said...

Hey Tony, I don't know about others, but your comments did not "hurt" me. If you are looking for forgiveness here, you've absolutely got it. Even if you hadn't changed your opinion, everyone is entitled to their opinions. We're not all in the same shoes. I might fight till death over issues concerning the crosses that I carry...and I respect that others don't have to....but in God's name, I hope everyone is fighting for something in this world that matters and can make a difference.

Thanks for coming back, even though you didn't have to. I completely honor you for your humility.

Babs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronb said...

Thank you for your stance. It is time that people take issue with things that are wrong.

As for the comment that this was taken out out context. That is absurd. It was a specific comment that was made and it was clear that it was spontaneous.

If you interpret Luke 6 verse 45
it says: The mouth tends to speak what is in the heart.

Anonymous said...

I saw the video of Leno show many times and in reality. Being fair and very logical, he is making fun of himself, and he is not offensive. It is about how we see ourself and others. I myself have a special need son, we lived very difficult times but we worked hard so he can conquer his own limitations. The letter is a heart feeling letter, but more a reaction of hurt and frustration because we love our children.

I do not blame others or feel insulted any more about what happen
with me and my son years ago. He is a miracle boy!

I think we have a good human being in Obama that pick a mess of many years of wrong doings. Focus on the positive, positive. Have you ever wonder why Mother Teresa never did an antiwar rally? She said, she will do a Peace rally, because she will focus on the positive. She will not give one second or energy to the war rally. Make so much sense.

I look forward for the world be a better place. We set the example,
we need to focus on the light...
solutions, let go...forward...
Peace to all. CE