The term brave or courageous is often applied to those of us who live with a disability and equally often, you'll hear me take issue with these bouts of admiration. And that's usually because these labels are stuck on us not because we did something particularly brave, but because we got on with life. Instead of sitting in rocking in a corner, we went to school or got a job or went out with friends for dinner or drinks or did any other of a host of actions associated with a normal life. Except because there's a disability involved, all of a sudden this is brave.
I remain steadfast in my position that getting up in the morning isn't particularly courageous and that bravery is about doing something scary when you have a choice to not. Living, as opposed to not, is just what happens. Sure, when you have a disability there are often more obstacles in your way, but does that mean that the label slapped on someone with a disability should more accurately be skillful?
Brave is going toward something that has the potential for not just being difficult, but potentially dangerous. I think the four police officers. I once saw in my neighborhood running towards a fraught situation, guns drawn, were brave. Then I thought some more and realized that I also think that my friend Ken is brave when he rockclimbs on mountains (also a little crazy, but that's a story for another day). People who ride bikes downtown are brave. Single moms are brave and so are young people who go to school away from home for the first time and live in a dorm.
And that's when it hit me. I think we’re all brave about something, but we can't see it ourselves because it's part of our everyday. We look on the lives of others and see clearly where they are brave — in places that to them are merely life, but to us are unimaginable because we've never done it. And whether that is hanging upside down from a rock hundreds of feet in the air, running towards potential harm, raising children alone or moving to a place where you know no one, we are astonished that someone will do it, because we can't imagine ourselves choosing to be in that situation.
We see bravery in the unfamiliar. And whether that is merely lack of exposure or a lack of imagination remains to be seen. Often, we will find ourselves in a similar situation and realize that although it initially feels scary, we got through it quite all right. Does that make us brave all of a sudden? Is brave even the right word for actions that don't have the possibility of bodily harm in them? Because, regardless of what you say, I am still steadfast in my belief that simply living with a disability is not brave.
Which brings me to something that happened about a week ago the last time The Boy spent the weekend. My attendant had helped me get into bed, plugged my chair in to charge and after she left The Boy went to brush his teeth. Coming out of the bathroom, he smelled something burny. This turned out to be the charger for my wheelchair, which in less than 10 minutes of being plugged into the outlet had gotten hot — not warm, hot — and emitted the smell of burnt insulation. We unplugged it, I limped through the weekend without moving much to save battery and The Boy went home. On Monday, I got a new charger. Plugged it in for 20 minutes while a friend was here and that went well. Plugged in for an hour and a half during my Mandatory Rest Period and that went well, too. No smell and no heat beyond the slight warmth of a piece of electronics working. At the end of the day, I went to bed. And plugged my chair in to charge, knowing that the next time someone would be in my apartment would be six hours later.
As I lay in bed, my mind obsessed over the temperature of my charger and the yawning chasm of time ahead of me before the next attendant came and I would be able to get out of my bed. It took a while, but at the end, I decided to go to sleep. I remember making an active decision to trust Dave the Wonder Repair Guy when he said the problem was my old charger. I remember making an active decision to trust The Boy when he told me that the plug of the old charger going into the outlet wasn't hot when he removed it. And I remember thinking it would be interesting to see if I woke up burned to a crisp the next morning. And then I went to sleep.
For the first time in my life, I'll cop to it: that was brave.