The Twenty-Five-Thousand-Dollar Question

There’s this mom in Portland, Maine, who does what many moms the world over do in 2013: She blogs. Kari Wagner-Peck blogs about her son’s birthday party, his art class, his brand-new motorcycle-themed backpack. And because her little boy also has Down syndrome, Kari blogs about disability rights.

Like many of us who know and love people with disabilities, Kari has a particular distaste for the word “retard,” a word that is only ever used hurtfully. As Elvis would say, “Don’t Be Cruel.” Why would anyone want to use a word that causes deep pain every time?

And why, Kari asked in an open letter two weeks ago, would the ethics columnist for The New York Times Magazine, of all people, want to use it?

On her blog, Kari cited several examples from Chuck Klosterman’s oeuvre in which he sprinkles the word “retard” for cheap laughs. (So not worth it, folks.) “Please enlighten me,” Kari wrote to him. “What are the ethics of using the R-word?”

A rhetorical question? Apparently not. Chuck Klosterman saw the letter, read it, then responded swiftly. Was he defensive? Dismissive? Nasty? None of the above. He was profoundly apologetic.

“I have spent the last two days trying to figure out a way to properly address the issue you have raised on your web site,” his message reads. “I’ve slowly concluded the best way is to just be as straightforward as possible: I was wrong. You are right.”

Next, Chuck Klosterman was generous. “I would also like to donate $25,000 to whatever charity… you recommend,” he writes. Uh…. how much?

We’re blown away. Where “sorry” might have been enough, this guy is putting his money where his shut-my-mouth is. “I have done something bad, so help me do something good,” he says. Chuck, you have proven that it’s never too late for redemption. As for me, I took the pledge several years ago. I don’t use the R word, and I try to spread the word. But now, in honour of Mr. Klosterman, I vow never to use “upchuck” in a sentence… ever again.

Kari’s son in costume: I’m trying to guess his superpower… a smile warm enough to melt icebergs, maybe?

Kari’s son in costume: I’m trying to guess his superpower… a smile warm enough to melt icebergs, maybe?

4 responses to “The Twenty-Five-Thousand-Dollar Question

  1. Her letter was brilliant, and that’s quite amazing that he responded with such a generous offer. Do you know if he also offered, or if she asked, that he write a column about his new “enlightenment?”
    This really is such a good news story–and it may continue to produce good news for others.
    Your telling of it is also so rich.

  2. Thank you, Christine! I don’t know if he’s written himself about this revelation, but the exchange does seem to be getting a lot of press in other places… which is fantastic. “Spread the word to end the word,” as the slogan goes!

  3. Connie McCullough

    Love it

  4. Thanks for that, Connie!

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