Thursday, May 21, 2009

Beyond Frustration, and Away from Pity

One anecdote that was removed from Seven Wheelchairs by the editors at The University of Iowa Press involved my interaction with an office supply salesman forty years or so ago.

I don't remember the name of the man I knew that long ago, but I do remember him -- a cheerful guy, optimistic, always presenting himself in a business suit and dark-framed serious glasses. What made him stand out was that he moved about with the quixotic gait of someone with cerebral palsy.

When he stopped by our office, we sometimes discussed disability, or rather living with a disability in a society before the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 or the US Supreme Court's Olmstead decision.

When it came down to the person we were when framed by disability, he would tell me "I think you may have it worse than me." And he said that not because I used a wheelchair while he could walk, but rather because he had been born with CP, and I had been paralyzed at seventeen.

"It's gotta be much harder to have walked and run and played sports and then had it all taken away from you."

Shamefully enough, I agreed. I think the foundation for those feelings were a sense of loss -- a loss of hopes, of dreams, of the person I had been and had expected to be.

I wasn't wise enough then to grasp the hard, cold truth of "break an egg, make an omelet."

And I wasn't wise enough to comprehend that every soul on this earth operates within the confines of their abilities and ambition, and to some extent circumstance.

Is that amorphous entity of luck involved? Of course -- and at each point in our lives when abilities, ambition, and circumstance comes into play. And that then cooks up a great chaotic, quarkian stew which we call life.

To talk about the issue in relation to disability in society, in relation to rights and to integration of people with disabilities into the mainstream, is useless.

Whether I am frustrated (read this as angry or bitter also) because I live with a measure of dependency upon others, or whether my long-ago acquaintance moved merrily through life without frustration (read this as jealousy or angst over what was not) is irrelevant.

The concept of anger and frustration in relation to disability -- as an outside subjective opinion or as an internal condition -- reminds me very much of the apparent color prejudice among African-Americans. And no doubt it is as irrelevant as my capacity to make a comparison.

People -- with or without disabilities, and of whatever ethnicity, gender, or other differentiating factor -- have but one truth to live, to cope with, to share.

That some of us are angry or frustrated or even bitter is inevitable.

That a few of us are trapped by these negative emotions is regretable.

That any of us would inflict them on people around us is contemptible.

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