People Have Names

A few months ago I wrote a “letter to the editor” to the New York Times. Not surprisingly, it was not published (the Times must get thousands of letters each day). So, I thought I’d post it here. The piece I responded to was about the process of replacing numbers with people’s names on grave markers in an institutional cemetery.

Peter Applebome applauds the replacement of numbers on grave-markers at Letchworth Village with the names of people buried there. (“Giving Names to Souls Forgotten No Longer,” December 13, 2007) An error begs to be set right. The article portrays institutional living for people with disabilities as “a long-gone world,” as “a world designed to be as distant as the stars.” The era of institutions is still with us. Institutions are smaller now. Maybe some of them are cleaner. Likely they are more hidden from us because they are or look like nursing homes. In them the barren way of living usual at Letchworth Village continues–in New York, in Ohio where I live, and in other US communities.

When we honor the names and lives of those whose graves have earlier borne only numbers, let’s not forget people in institutions now whose lives remain unknown to their fellow citizens.

Jack Pealer

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