Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pretty Amazing

I saw her kindness tucked behind the bins of canned soup in the pantry, in the form of five boxes of Saltine crackers.

They're for my second-graders, she said. Some of their families can't afford to feed them breakfast in the morning, and they kept saying they were hungry.

 I saw her kindness in the pink nail polish she carefully painted onto my nails when I was nine years old, on the night that my dad and my brothers went roller skating. "Who needs roller skates when you have nail polish and ice cream sundaes?" she said.

I saw it in the tears of joy she cried for the little boy with a learning disability when he read his first book, as her entire class of students broke into unprompted applause for their classmate.

I saw it in the hours of time she spent after school tutoring a little girl whose native language wasn't English and who was struggling to understand math—a little girl who wasn't even in her class.

I saw it in the endless hours she spent helping ME with MY homework all throughout my elementary school years, in the crazy school projects that I definitely did not do all on my own.

I saw it in the letter she left on my pillow when I was having a difficult day.   

I saw it when she peeked her head into my room one day and said, "Let's get ice cream!" When I asked her why, she just smiled. "Does there have to be a reason to get ice cream?"

I saw it in her eyes when she took my brothers and me out to lunch for our eighth birthday and an elderly couple stopped by our table to comment on how well-mannered we were. "Thank you," she said. "They're pretty amazing." Thirteen years later, I couldn't tell you what I got for material presents that year but I tucked away those words and they remain the most memorable birthday gift that I've ever received.   

I saw it when a stranger accidentally locked her toddler in her car and the fire department had to be called, and my mom went up to the woman and embraced her, wiped her tears and reassured her that she was an amazing mom, that we don't have to be perfect.

And maybe "We don't have to be perfect" was the kindest sentiment that she ever instilled in me...when I came home from school crying because somebody had said something about my legs, and she looked me in the eye and said, "Yeah, you have tightness in your legs and I know it's hard and I know you want to cry sometimes and I know it doesn't seem fair. But you don't have to be perfect. You've overcome so much, and you're already incredible just the way you are."

Sometimes when I'm out and about, somebody will come up to me and say, "You remind me so much of your mom." Usually when someone says that, I laugh it off and change the subject. But next time? Next time it happens, I will think of her and everything she has done to make the world a better place. I will think of her and her quiet acts of kindness and I will smile.

"Thank you," I will say. "She's pretty amazing."

Monday, March 2, 2015

On Being a "Disabled Student"

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever get used to being a person with a disability. Is that something that somebody can "get used to?"

A few months ago, I was relating a story to one of my friends about a situation that I had dealt with earlier in the day.

"I was halfway to orgo lab when I realized that I left my lab notebook in my room and I had to walk all the way back and get it! I ended up being ten minutes late to class but the lab professor still let me take the quiz!" [The policy is that if you're late to chemistry lab, you get a zero on the pre-lab quiz.]

My friend nodded, confused at my tone of surprise. "Well, yeah. I would have let you take it too."

"Really?" I was shocked.

She started to laugh, then motioned to my legs with her eyes. I followed her gaze and only then did I "get it."

"You can't really run across campus to get back to your dorm room. You had the perfect excuse for being late!"

I started laughing too, because it had never even crossed my mind that I had an excuse.

I remembered this story because of something that happened this morning. This has been one of the snowiest winters we've had in years, and as I was walking to class with one of my friends, I stumbled on the snowy pathway leading from my dorm. I caught myself in a snowbank and leaned on a mound of snow to help me keep my balance until we reached clean pavement. If it sounds awkward to you—yeah, it was—but I didn't think much of it because at this point, awkward is kind of my life. ;)

 "Sometimes I think my life should have some heroic music playing in the background, with a couple of slow-mo scenes thrown in," I joked to my friend as we continued on our way.

After my class (a genetics exam! It was a crazy day.), I opened up Yik Yak on my phone. (For those of you who don't know what Yik Yak is, it's a social media app in which people within a 10 mile radius from each other can anonymously read and post comments.) The top Yak was something along the lines of: "Get it together, [name of my college.] How about you shovel the pathways so the disabled students don't fall? I just saw a girl fall because of the lack of shoveled snow."

It took me a few moments to realize that this comment was specifically referring to ME. I wasn't offended by it (quite the contrary; I think this person was well-intentioned), but I don't think I'll ever get used to being a "disabled student." I simply don't think of myself as "disabled," and I don't know if I ever will.

As I find my place in this world, I'm discovering that the more I accept my disability as part of who I am, the more I realize just how ABLE I am.