I haven’t written in a while. Life has been getting in the way of my art these days. Work, bills, stress, housekeeping. All necessary, and for all I am thankful as a means to realizing the more independent life I have so long fought for. . . But boy-oh-boy has all this maturity made me an unreliable, frustrated artist.
Since when did Leonard Cohen ever write about forgetting to check his mail? Is there a song on Pet Sounds about paying your light bill? I don’t think so.Clearly I have been lacking in perspective. In my head, my life and the things in it have been nothing to write home [or the Internet] about.
Until I came across an article featuring an interview with Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the granddaughter of the coolest [and most differently-abled] POTUS ever: FDR. In it, she discusses the FDR Memorial, and how she, some members of her family, and [self-] advocates within the disability community, fought [successfully] to have a statue that features FDR in a wheelchair added to the memorial. Since its addition, it remains the most photographed spot on the site.
Although FDR did have misgivings about making his disability a public matter, the fact remains that all of his major life accomplishments, including all 4 of his terms as President, were realized after his disability became a prominent part of his life.
The fact that a member of his family recognizes and celebrates this is to be commended. While life with a disability isn’t always a picnic, disabilities should never be ignored.
Recently, I was having dinner with friends when one of them said “We don’t really see your disability, we just see you”. I know what she meant: it’s not her primary focus. It isn’t the first thing she thinks of when she sees me. It’s not like she introduces me as “my friend Beth in the wheelchair”, or has me stored in her phone as “Wheelchair Beth”. All that I can appreciate.
But to see my disability should be to acknowledge its existence and to affirm that all parts of me make me who I am. I do not exist in a vaccum apart from my limitations, I exist alongside them. There is nothing about my differences that I am not constantly experiencing with the other parts of myself.
We don’t live in Avatar [which you know I’m thankful for]. Life gets better when we make the most of it and keep moving forward, not when we trade up for a pair of Sea Legs. The more we engage in dialogue about disability and difference, the more awareness we will have of one another. The more awareness, the more empathy. And the more empathy, the more strength and equity as a society.
So, if there is ever a monument to me, put my clunky gold-silver-or-bronze self in a wheelchair. See me as I am.
And make sure I don’t look creepy.