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  • It was a long drive out to the farm. Arriving there just as the sun was beginning to set, I parked in the gravel lot when you first pull in and looked around for some indication of people, a flicker of light from a bonfire or the sound of people mingling. Making my way up a small slope, I noticed a group sipping out of mugs what I realized must be the sassafras tea that was planned for the evening. It felt wonderful to be somewhere remote on such a chilly, clear night.

    Approaching the group, everyone seemed to be intent on the friction fire demonstration going on, led by Jonathan. Joe and he were crouched down, side-by-side, using a bow drill made out of yucca stalks and string. (Join the Cincinnati Naturalist Society on their next adventure – learn more here:

    I was there to capture the night using video, so I found different angles that worked with the light and zoomed in on hands working together, recording the smoke as it came from the bow drill: the start of a fire.

    The smell of chili soon began to waft our direction, and soon people were spooning up heaps of Joe’s momma’s homemade chili. As the sun went down and dinner settled in stomachs, stars overhead peaked down at us. The group gathered around the fire and crackles from it enticed stories and laughter.

    Then Joe arrived beside me, and I realized he was nearly crying. He asked if he could tell me something. Being with my camera, I went to turn it on and point it his direction, but he laughed shyly and said, “Off camera.”

    I winced and put it away, wishing I hadn’t made him uncomfortable.

    He told me, “When I first came to StarfireU as a freshman, I never thought something like this would happen.” His eyes welled up as he looked around, “I am just overwhelmed by it. It’s outrageous! Having everyone together, being here with people, I love it. This is the best thing that has happened to me.”

    There isn’t much else I could say except hug him, and thank him for what he’d said.

    How could it be that Joe, a young man in his 20s, would say a typical night out with friends could be the best thing that ever happened to him? All Joe’s life, he has been left out of the small, ordinary things, like hanging out around a bonfire and eating chili and shootin’ the shit with friends.

    Joe has a disability, and that comes with a basic set of societal burdens such as stereotypes and stigmas, or separate programs and services, that give outsiders the impression that he is not a friend, or a neighbor, or a citizen, but a “client.”

    We are all likely to have thought this way at some point in our lives. I know I have. But the fantastic ending is that it’s never impossible to shift your mindset, or be more aware of how you can stop looking for permission, and start seeing your BFFs as anyone, people with and without disabilities.

    It may take a small tweak in your daily routine to start thinking this way, but practice and it will come to you naturally. Your first task can be this: if you’re having a bonfire in your backyard this month, or hitting some trails, or planting your vegetable garden, or baking a cake for your sister, or doing anything you’re passionate about and might enjoy doing it with others…. who could you invite that would love to be there???
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