Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Suppose I mug you. And then suppose you give the police a description of me. And suppose you say, “He was a white guy about 60 years old with a beard and too much belly.”
And suppose that after about a week the police come back to you and say they haven’t found a suspect to arrest because there are about a million guys in the city who fit that description. And suppose the police ask you if you have any other information that might aid them in their search. And then suppose you say, “Well, there is one little detail I neglected to mention. He’s crippled and he rides around in a motorized wheelchair.”
How do you suppose the police will react? My guess is that they’ll be pretty pissed that that wheelchair stuff wasn’t the first thing you told them. And then suppose you say something to the police like, “Well, I was trying to look beyond his wheelchair. I was trying to see the person and not the wheelchair. We shouldn’t let his wheelchair define him. There’s so much more to him than that.”
That would be silly. The police might even turn around and arrest you for committing an act of criminal misplaced sensitivity in the first degree. And I wouldn’t blame them. Because the first thing everybody sees when they see me is a guy in a wheelchair. Hell, the first thing I see when I look in the mirror is a guy in a wheelchair. I may be crippled, but I ain’t fucking blind.
My crippledness is the most significant thing about me. I suppose I can understand why some people are reluctant to let others define cripples based on our crippledness. Because a lot of people define being crippled as being fucked up. But if cripples want to redefine crippledness so that they can shed the burden of going around pretending like their crippledness doesn’t impact their lives in a major way, then they have to stop going around pretending like their crippledness doesn’t impact their lives in a major way.
Like for instance, a few months back we had one of those insane cold days in Chicago where if you’re outdoors for more than a minute or two it feels like someone attacked your face with a power sander. It was the kind of day where you not only wear a ski mask but you also wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth so that only your eyes are exposed. My friend Mary Jo was walking to work, all huddled in her parka, and she noticed another bundled up guy walking by. This guy tapped a white cane. And when he got closer he looked like a blind mummy because his scarf was wrapped completely around his head. Except he wasn’t walking how mummies walk, like he’s dragging a ball and chain. This blind mummy was clipping along faster than everyone else.
Now here was a guy who decided it was too cold to give a shit what other people think. So he put his crippledness out there on full display. And anybody he passed that day got their notion of what it means to be blind shaken up a bit. They saw that being blind can give you a superior ability to endure the insane cold, as long as you don’t give a shit what other people think. I bet some of those cold people were actually envious of that blind mummy.
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