Courtesy of Deviant Art
The day had gone well. I went into my home office and turned on the music that would accompany the thing I hate to do most: exercise. I boarded the treadmill and adjusted the settings to the right speed and incline and hit go. The treadmill is positioned by the window so when I exercise I can see what's going on in the world outside. Something - anything - to make this dreaded thing seem a bit more interesting.
Ten minutes in I notice something that brings a truth home and automatically changes my view of exercise. I see this boy. I see this boy in the driveway of a house across the street. He is playing soccer with another boy - perhaps a brother, a cousin or a friend. I gauge them to be ten, maybe eleven. I don’t see anything unusual at first, but then I see it. His arms are fine; his legs are not. One leg is shorter than the other and he walks with a limp. He is having a bit of trouble handling the ball with his legs. At times, when the ball is kicked gently to him, he misses it. Yet, those failed attempts do not seem to deter him. I no longer hear the music as I am now transfixed, watching this brave boy play. I silently applaud his victories when he kicks the ball and feel a heaviness of heart when he misses it. I begin to wonder what is going on in his mind as he is playing ball with this other boy and find that I do not have the emotional strength to go there and imagine. As a mother, it is too heartbreaking to think about although the boy appears healthy otherwise. The other boy at times takes the ball and bounces it from one knee to the other. All the while this boy patiently waits and watches as his brother/cousin/friend does things that he cannot do. My heart breaks and I want to go outside and tell this healthy boy not to do that. That doing that is mean. But I do not. A vocal person by nature, I do not concern myself with matters that are none of my business. It is not my place. My eyes begin to water at the injustices of life and I begin to wonder how his mother handles this. I claim to be strong yet have no emotional strength in this area.
I begin imagining him as a teenager, a time that is difficult enough for teens when they are finding their way in this world and are busy trying on different suits and characters in an effort to find the one that fits them best. I imagine for a disabled child, this cross must be heavier. I wonder what he will be like as a teenager. Will he turn to drugs or liquor to numb his difference? Will he begin to mock himself in front of friends and peers as a means to fit in and show that it’s no biggie and that if he can make fun then, hey, so can they? I pray not. I think of him falling in love and wonder if he will get his heart broken which is part and parcel of this rite of passage? I begin to pray that he is spared that much and, instead, meets a girl that sees his tender heart and promises to love it and protect it.
I am wrong altogether. Maybe he has found a way to handle this and doesn’t see himself as having a disability at all but sees himself as one who is just different. Maybe he will be one of the many who will not allow his aspirations to lie fallow and will persevere and become very successful. The trials he has gone through and will continue to endure prepares him well in life. It takes courage and unbending determination to walk in his shoes and to be successful is in his destiny if he so desires. There will be no limit to what he can do. I know a few disabled individuals who are extremely successful and know they do not like labels. I think they find this an insult. I can understand this. Yet my heart still says a silent prayer for them whenever I pass or meet one and wish them much love and strength in their lives.
My mind then wanders to this sweet and friendly student we have on campus who is also disabled. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. Whenever I see him, a smile lights up my face. He is so tender in heart and always so happy. I see how students interact with him and welcome him with open arms at their tables during lunch. In an environment where different cliques reign, he belongs to all. I most especially enjoy watching the tough guys and cocky jocks let down their guards and show their hearts to him when they are always so careful not to show it to anyone else. They all protect him and love him as one of their own. He is loved in this school. The community of students and staff and professors are and consider themselves to be his family. And, as his family, they are there for him. This is what I wish for this boy. To find a family of friends who will value, love and protect him.
My thoughts wander back. I see the boy. He is no longer playing ball. He has grown tired. He stops playing and goes inside the house. Meanwhile, I am still on the treadmill walking, doing something so natural that it does not require my undivided attention. Unlike this boy. Unlike this boy with the short leg. And suddenly I feel ashamed for taking for granted the blessings I have. But I also note that disabilities come in different forms - emotional, learning, physical (some which are not seen) - and, if one's disability is not a visible one, then another never needs to know. And in this respect some have the advantage and are spared the uncomfortableness that sometimes comes with being treated differently. A disabled person always gets treated differently (although in a good and well-meaning way), but I wonder if sometimes they wish for this not to be so. If one is disabled, but not in a visible way, then another is none the wiser and then the disabled person is treated 'normal.' So why should this be any different for them? They have a right to this. They have a right to be treated just like everybody else, but yet are not. And I wonder if they at times resent this. I don't know. All I know is that we become better people when we are in their presence. They open our hearts and show us what true strength, perseverance, and courage is all about. They shine a light at us and we see the better part of ourselves - our love, compassion and caring - reflected in the mirror. So then perhaps it's not so much the disability that we see but the strength and courage and love and compassion and caring that fills us and takes us to a better place; a place that shows us that humanity still reigns. Silently, we all wish them the best and pray for them and send them our blessings; yet it is us who have been blessed by them. That is power. That is love. That is our humanity in its purest form.