Monday, November 15, 2010

Everyday Hero

Thanks to everyone who left a comment in last week's contest, three quarters of you voting for Wish Upon. Thank you also for giving me this moment of publicly telling a certain someone that I told you so. Which is not to say that I don’t like Christmas Come Again, I do – I like its intense Christmasness – but I figured the other would be more versatile. I have obediently changed the packs around in the shop. And speaking of winners… I messed around with a random number generator and the winners of the calendars are comments #3 and 12. Congratulations kallajer and deb bennett! Contact me at landers5ATgmailDOTcom with your full names and addresses and I'll get the calendars to you right away.

The other day, I saw a bit advertising an upcoming story on one of the local news shows. Called Everyday Hero - which leads me to believe it's a bit of a series - this particular episode was a portrait of a woman with MS. The woman is a wheelchair user and her MS has affected her enough that she can no longer use her hands. You also saw shots of her painting with a paintbrush held in her mouth (the painting was really nice). In voiceover, you heard the woman say "I had a choice, I could sit at home and mope… I have MS, MS doesn't have me… "

These are not words we haven't heard before. They are words I've said myself, words almost any person who has a disability has said before, privately, publicly, on inspiring snippets on local news shows, in books, magazines and you get the point. And this post isn't about those words specifically or the woman in the profile – it’s about how I finally got it. Not just intellectually, but emotionally, thoroughly and actually grokked it.

I got why these incredibly annoying inspirational profiles persist, I got why random strangers tell me I'm courageous, I finally understood.

I always thought it was ridiculous. Thought that people didn't quite understand what courage is. Running into a burning building when everybody else runs out is courageous. Running towards the sound of gunshots to save a life when everyone else runs away makes someone a hero. Making an active choice to do something that puts yourself at risk is the definition of heroic and courageous and deserves an inspirational profile. But getting up in the morning? Getting dressed? Going to school? Having a job? Having hobbies? How is that courageous? Sure, there's the option to sit in the corner and rock, but that's only amusing for so many years - sooner or later you have to move on. But moving on, in my opinion and in the opinion of most of the disabled people I've met, does not constitute the kind of active choice, of putting yourself at risk that make someone a hero. If the choice is between life and rocking in a corner for decades, it really isn’t much of a choice, is it now?

So I looked it up, because I’m a word nerd. Courage is defined as "the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” A hero is “a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal:” There's a handy example: "He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.

And it all started to come together. The profiles, the admiration, the statements that people would kill themselves if they lost the ability to walk, an assertion I've always dismissed as lack of imagination, but now understand in a different way. The click in my mind that connected that to the undertone of amazement that a person with a disability would adapt and go on with their life. It's as if there's a sense of awe that someone would face difficulty or pain without being curled up in a corner, gibbering in fear and how this bestows upon the person a regard as being a role model. Because it is apparently inconceivable to the able-bodied that it is possible to have a life while not being able to move your body the way the Abs do. Inconceivable to the point that there is this weird sense that disability conveys an alienness, an otherworldly not quite personhood.

Here's another thing that makes me sort of squirmy, pushing the discomfort around people like me to the point of us being seen as not being quite human. Does that sound like an exaggeration? Then why is it okay to physically modify a girl so she won't grow, hastening a death in order to harvest organs, publicly advocate the killing of disabled children, accept an unemployment rate within the group of up to 85%, call hate speech mean instead of the name it deserves and if you have a couple of weeks, you can go through my archives for other loathsome examples.

It's not just a lack of imagination, it is an actual inability to accept the fact that life can still be life if you can't walk. An unwillingness to look at your own history of rising to a challenge and conceding that in a similar situation it would be possible you'd continue to be interested in anything but death. An unwillingness and inability so profound that there is only one thing for it. Awestricken admiration that someone gets up in the morning.

You know what? I still don't get it.


AlisonH said...

Hero in the sense of someone to look up to as reassurance that, should such a thing happen to them,  too, they can look at the person who's coping and realize they too will still be themselves and they'll be able to cope too. Their relief however that they don't *have* to right now translates into sneaky-guilty hero-worship of the person who does have to.

Trevor said...

Maybe you don't get it because it applies to you?

BTW, Everyday Hero is a weekly feature on Global National.  In past years, they've also done a year-end show where the most popular profiles are run again.  Most of the people they profile do not appear to be disabled.  They are people who volunteer in the community.  I know that a few years ago, they profiled the guy who's now famous for starting Global Medic (and who made Time magazine's list of the most influential people in the world).  They've profiled a guy who immigrated to Canada, became a cop in Toronto, and now runs a community program for at-risk kids.  The woman whose profile you saw advertised goes to schools and demonstrates to little kids how she paints with her mouth, and gets them to do it too.  She's trying to get kids to view people with disablities in a positive light.

Diane said...

It sure looks like you qualify as both courageous and sometimes heroic by the definitions you used.  Why the squirmy, you ask?  Because there are a good number of us (me included) who find it very uncomfortable to "toot our own horn".  That's just the way we were brought up.  I admire you because you write so well and I'm glad to call you a friend.  

While I was in our local grocery store (Wegman's...big place, wide aisles), I paid special attention to the handicapped access checkout that I was in.  It was the only one open that wasn't express at the time.  While there was clearly plenty of room for a wheelchair, maybe even two side by side, it seemed to me that the debit card scanner was too high to be easily used by someone in a wheelchair.  Is there a height standard?  If so, what is it?  I'll measure and send of a note to corporate.