Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Who Are We Without Our Experiences?

My dad came home the other day and told me about a woman who works at the gym in his workplace, how she has a prosthetic leg.
"She kind of reminds me of you," he said.

~

Rewind a few months. I was cross-country skiing with my dad, struggling to keep my balance. We passed an older couple that wasn't particularly friendly a bit firm, even.

"You aren't allowed to go off the path," the woman said to us.
She was referencing the fact that my dad was standing in the fresh snow on the side of the trail, walking alongside me to keep me from falling.

I didn't tell her about my cerebral palsy, about how sometimes I can't get my legs to do what I want them to do.

That would be too many words, too much confusion.
"I'm sorry," I managed. "This is my first time."

"Just go up that hill there a few times," the man chimed in. "You'll get the hang of it soon."

I smiled at them, silently clutching an explanation of my situation. It's not worth explaining about cerebral palsy. Let them think that I can go up that hill, let them think that I won't have to practice for hours and hours to even begin to "get the hang of it."

But while my dad and I were practicing, that couple crossed paths with my mom and brothers, unbeknownst to us. They mentioned to my mom that they saw my dad and me....my mom asked them if I was having a hard time, and she told them that I have cerebral palsy.

Towards the end of our cross-country session, we ran into that couple again. They smiled, offered words of encouragement. You see, they had two grandchildren with cerebral palsy. They understood.

~

At a local grocery store, one of the shopping cart attendants is autistic. He has a muscular build, and is over six feet tall, so many customers are intimidated by him. They refuse to even look at him, and rush past nervously whenever he comes close.

Except my mother. She's a pretty soft-spoken person by nature, but she shows no reservations when she shouts his name across the parking lot and waves. He ambles over to chat, a smile spread across his face.

"It bothers me," she confided as we were driving home one day, "that people are so quick to judge him. They don't even give him a chance."

His physique may be imposing, but his soul is gentle. His voice is quiet and kind. He thirsts for friendship, and he has hopes and dreams just like the rest of the world; he wanted desperately to go to art school, but the admissions told him he wasn't good enough. If people took a moment to get to know him, if they even smiled in his general direction, they would realize that he is the antonym of threatening.

~

My mom came home the other day and said, "I helped a woman with multiple sclerosis with her errands today. She seemed surprised and relieved that I offered, but I couldn't bear the thought of her walking up those cement stairs and falling with her crutches."

Once, we saw this same woman taking a walk outside with her forearm crutches. Her steps were slow, laborious. A small hill was akin to a mountain.

We watched her for a moment, silently cheering her on, when my mom turned to me.
"You know what that's like."

I nodded. I knew only too well.

~

All of this leads me to wonder....who are we without our experiences?

If I was completely able-bodied, would the the woman with the prosthetic leg at the gym hold so much significance for my dad? What about the couple we saw skiing would they have understood my mother when she said that I had CP if they hadn't had two grandchildren with the same condition? Would my mom be so quick befriend the attendant with autism if she hadn't experienced, through me, the pain of being judged because of a disability? And the woman with MS would my mom have noticed her struggling with her crutches, would she have considered the dangers of a cement staircase if she hadn't had those exact same worries about me a few years ago?

For better or for worse, sometimes I feel like we view the world through disability-colored glasses. 

7 comments:

  1. With you on this from a different slant - I (and my family) are currently viewing the world through miscarriage/infertility glasses and again it's totally a double-edged sword, but it does provoke new thoughts, new connections and new meaning in life for us.

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  2. It really is interesting to wonder who we would be if not for our life experiences. Would I have started blogging and Our Land if I didn't hava a little boy who is on the autism spectrum? Would I have found you, Kerri, Joy, Ellen or Tatum? Maybe. But probably not. And honestly, I am so very glad to know all of you. And to have Our Land.
    Also, as you probably guessed, I love that your mom is so wonderful to speak to that man at the grocery store - Tucker is really big for his age and it worries me that people will be intimidated by him as well. As always, my lovely friend. An amazing post. Your words are always perfectly perfect.
    And hey! I hope you have a wonderful fourth of July!

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  3. I definitely agree with you. I know (insert guilt here) that without my Boo I would not have patience when I see children, with no visible signs, acting inappropriately. I sadly thought that autism and ADHD were overused terms. My thinking was, quite frankly, not very nice.

    I wasn't mean. But I was judgmental. Don't get me wrong if there was a visible sign of a disability I was more than kind and helpful. IT was the invisible handicaps I missed the boat on.

    Having Boo not only opened my eyes and world view she also has impacted everyone who comes into contact with her. From Allie's young friends who have never experienced a person with a disability to grown men and women.

    Now, I wish I didn't have to have the rough wake-up call. I wish I had just know how to not pre-judge.

    This was a beautiful post, as always, and made me appreciate Boo just a little more. Which is good because she has been a terror today :)

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  4. This is awesome. Your mom is awesome. It's true, if you haven't experienced anything related to a disability, you probably wouldn't notice.

    Thank you so much for your comments at Finding Ninee on my Our Land post. So glad you liked it!

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  5. Wow! I found you through The Our Land Series and you have another follower. I love your take on things. :-)
    Life with the Spectrum

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  6. Before my son was diagnosed with autism, I thought I knew it all. I thought I was understanding. My experience has humbled me, forced me to be more patient and opened my eyes to be more accepting of those who I used to view as different or other. I'm not sure I would like the person I would be without this experience.

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  7. I hope this does not seem too...something...but the thought that crossed my mind when reading this post is one that occurs to me from time to time: one of the most difficult things about growing up with CP is the fact that my parents did not have it, too. While I understand it would change them intrinsically as people, that is not what the desire is about for me. It's that, for most other minority groups - they see others like them on a regular basis - in their own families, even - and it is tough to NOT have your parents "get" what it's like to move through the world the way we do.

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