In the lounge of a swanky new wine bar in a hip neighborhood of downtown San Diego, I had a slightly heated argument about the ignorant misuse of words with a woman old enough to know better. It took a measurable amount of restraint not to do more than raise my voice. Were it not for the fact that she lives with a good friend of mine, I'm sure I would have let the fur fly. "What's wrong with saying retarded?"
Was this well dressed woman really defending the use of the word to describe anything that was stupid or lame? She was. She was also arguing that people had become too sensitive to the word. I blinked hard and swallowed even harder. The ball in my throat that wanted to shout, scream, cry was making it hard to drink my merlot. I waited for her to speak further to convince myself that I had actually heard her arguing that side... that those words were really coming from the mouth of a woman that I had, until that moment, held in much higher regard.
Hot tears pooled in the corners of my eyes as words kept pouring out of her mouth.
Why should she worry about offending anyone in our presence, she wanted to know. Deliberately, and maybe a few decibles higher, I explained that she might be in the company of a woman who, as a child, had a younger sister who had mental disabilities before she died when the little girl was only eight leaving a hole in her heart that aches whenever ignorant people use that nasty little word to describe anything other than a neurological condition.
Today, two women that I admire had more to say about this from the perspective that must surely hurt so much deeper than that of a sister. They are the mothers of children with disabilities. And they are sick of people using the R word.