Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Choices

In life, we all have choices. Some of these choices are insignificant; others could change the course of our lives forever. I have made plenty of choices in my life, and like all of us, I regret some of them, and others impacted my life in incredible ways. But this post isn't about my choices. It's about the choices of my peers.

During one fourth grade gym class, we were supposed to be jumping rope. I can't jump rope, but my friends swung the rope slowly and I stumbled over it. They didn't make me feel different, inferior because I couldn't actually jump the rope. They didn't laugh at me, ignore me, or badger me with uncomfortable questions. They counted my steps over the rope, and I counted their jumps. And that little moment eight years ago, a moment which they have probably forgotten, will be forever etched in my mind.

Fifth grade kickball. Before my turn, my teacher looked me in the eye and asked me if I wanted to try to kick the ball. Yes, I said. I want to play. Heart pounding, I kicked that ball and ran. Ran in my own way, a stumbling fast walk, but I ran. I made it to first base. I heard a voice urge me to keep going, keep going. So I kept running, around all of the bases, back to home base. I scored a point in a Friday afternoon fifth grade kickball game. A game that my classmates probably don't remember, but one that will always be significant to me because I realized later that they let me score that point. And that is a beautiful thing.

Karate class. I had to be lifted over some of the obstacles in the obstacle course because I couldn't jump over them. At first I was embarrassed by this, embarrassed that I had to be carried through part of the obstacle course, but then I heard the cheering. Throughout the duration of the obstacle course at the end of each class, my peers cheered for me. They could have torn me down, whispered behind my back, but they didn't. They made me feel proud.

These kids had a choice. They could have teased me, ignored me, questioned me, but they didn't. They made an awesome choice. And for that, I thank them.
Stumbo Family Story

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lack of Acceptance: "Somebody Actually Acknowledged Me"

About a month and a half ago, I was eating breakfast in the dining hall, and I said hello to one of the women who works there. We talked for a while, and it became clear to me that she has autism. Autism or not, however, she is incredibly friendly and kind, funny, and interesting to talk to, and she's obviously no less of a person than anyone else, so why should she be treated differently than others?

After our conversation, what she said next broke my heart. Approaching a fellow cafeteria worker, she announced, "Guess what? Somebody actually acknowledged me!"

This hit me so. hard. I can't imagine going to work each day and feeling invisible, ignored, unacknowledged.

And then I saw her again yesterday. Our eyes met for a moment and she smiled and ran over.
"I love you like a sister," she said, and leaned in for a hug.
"I love you like a sister too," I responded, and happiness filled my soul.
We talked some more, and I know she's an animal lover like I am, so I pulled out my phone and showed her a photo of my cats.
Just then, a man came over, another cafeteria worker.
She introduced me to him.
I could tell immediately that this man looked down upon her - his demeanor and the way that he spoke to her  said it all.
"We're friends, aren't we?" she said to me.
"Of course we are!" I responded, meaning it with all my heart.
Thank you, he mouthed to me, and he ushered her away.
I forced a smile back but I felt my insides burning.
I know he was thanking me for being friendly to her, like it's not mutual.
That's not true.
She's my friend, and I'm hers.
I'm not doing doing anyone a favor..she's not a charity case!
Why make that assumption?
What makes you think, Mr. Cafeteria Worker, that I don't genuinely want to be friends with her?
Maybe I'm being too sensitive about it, but it really bothered me. What is wrong with some people?

I wish some people would take the time to see past disabilities so they could truly get to know their fellow human beings.

And then the saying comes to mind: Be the change you want to see in the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Transcending CP: A Snapshot of My Life

            Every single day. Every single day for two years, weather permitting, I rode that bike, my knuckles white from gripping the handlebars, my eyes fixed on the stretch of pavement ahead, and determination bubbling in my chest. To some of the neighbors, I was that girl that was to be pitied, that girl with a disability, that girl whose parents were told she might never walk independently. Evidently those neighbors underestimated the power of perseverance. One afternoon, I was pedaling home from the bus-stop with my mother gripping my shoulders, and it was an ordinary day except that after a moment, she let go. She let go, but I kept pedaling, willing myself to stay upright, willing myself to ride that bike independently for the first time in my life at age nine. And I did. 
            It’s called cerebral palsy, and as a triplet born three months prematurely, I was at a higher risk for it. The form I have primarily affects my lower body, but it hinders my brain’s communication with my muscles, so some physical activities can present a challenge for me.
However, challenges inspire me, and those who look beyond my gait see so much more. They see a girl at the top of her class, a girl who studies meticulously and has a passion for learning. They see a girl who has taken piano lessons for over eight years, a girl who fingers difficult pieces until they’re mastered. They see a girl who isn’t defined by her limitations, a girl who knows that she is capable of anything. 
Like me, he was capable too, but it was difficult to see. He was wheelchair-bound, with frozen limbs and an inability to speak. It was a blindingly-bright morning, the day of the Audubon Society’s annual fair. As a volunteer, my event required participants to throw a ball at a target, and when the boy and his father started to retreat, I stopped them. Peering into the boy’s eyes, I asked if he would like to try, and his father responded, a smile in his voice, “I think he would.” The expression on the boy’s face was indelible as his hand was gently guided into throwing the ball. Although his muscles were unforgiving and his body was stiff, there was a sparkle in his eyes and laughter in his smile. I remembered the feeling that I had when I first rode that bike, and I imagined that his spirit, too, was soaring.  
I am no longer that girl to be pitied, that girl with a disability, that girl whose parents were told she might never walk independently. I am that girl to be admired, that girl with endless abilities, that girl who not only walked independently, but rode a bicycle, and rode it as quickly as her legs could carry her. I am that girl who transcended a doctor’s diagnosis with sheer willpower, and that girl who gives others the opportunity to do the same. I am that girl.