For your enjoyment, here’s an old blog post Jeff wrote back in the summer of 2007. Post-script: that show Family Guy TOTALLY ripped him off on the creed at the end, just remember wrote it first.
Over the past few weeks I have been struggling with the concept of language, specifically in relation to “disability”. To me, the word “disability” symbolizes everything I’m not–lacking ability. Sure, I’m not the greatest at math, cannot sing opera and will likely never dance like Ricky Martin, something my “Guide to being a Manly Man” tells me is probably not such a bad thing unless I truly am living “la vita loca,” but really, is this different than anyone else? Everyone has limitations, no one is perfect…especially not Ricky Martin.
But, irony raised its cruel and vengeful head this week when it came to be that time of the month. Yes, that period we all experience where we are force to suffer through obscene discomfort and frustration, which, we’re told is “only natural” and “ultimately for the best.”
Now usually I don’t loathe the standard wheelchair tune-up, but this month proved to be particularly bothersome as my chair required some extra special attention after it had a minor run in with a certain form of transportation that is not the most…accepting…of “differently abled” individuals. I don’t want to name names or point fingers because that’s not the point of this entry, but, lets just say if the powers that be wanted me to fly they likely wouldn’t have put me in a wheelchair…or at least would have provided me some wings…or a rocket pack.
So because this was gonna be a day or two to deal with, Shoppers Home Health Care offered me a loaner chair so that I wouldn’t be completely immobilized for an entire day, left to the whim of gentle strangers and friends who may be around to graciously transport my little crippled body around the apartment.
While it was a nice gesture, don’t get me wrong, this loaner chair turned out to be a little bit of a disaster. This shouldn’t be too surprising, as it is just a loaner chair after all, but the experience I had while using this loaner chair was something pretty remarkable.
For one of the first times in my life…I felt disabled. It was almost like my brain had been scooped out of my body and plopped down into the body of a perfect stranger…a stranger who walked funny and had about 150lbs of extra junk located inside their trunk. Navigation was nearly impossible as the loaner chair drove differently than mine along with being significantly wider and longer. The results were humorous, albeit regrettable for my apartment walls and door frames. Truly, for that day my substitute body was a cage and contrary to what The Arcade Fire may tell you, my mind certainly did not hold the key. No matter how hard I concentrated I just couldn’t get the hang of it–instead I just looked like I was drunk…which I guess is okay, it helped me blend in with the other University of Western Ontario students.
No, instead of figuring out how to drive the chair, my mind spent a majority of the day yearning for that warm, comfortable consistency of my old body, my old chair. I felt like an amputee, mourning the loss of his favourite limb or like a junkie craving just one more ride on the white pony. I needed my fix and I needed it bad! What I realized is that my chair, which I’m comfortably lounging in as we speak, has truly penetrated me deeper than I could have ever imagined. It has become an intimate part of my life, a part so deeply intertwined with my identity that I don’t feel quite complete without it and actually yearn for it when it’s taken away from me!
I know I shouldn’t be saying this and disability theorists everywhere are probably pulling out their hair screaming “PEOPLE FIRST! PEOPLE FIRST LANGUAGE! THE MACHINE DOES NO MAKE THE MAN! I’M GOING TO KILL YOU PRESTON, I’M GOING TO KILL YOU DEAD! AHHHHHHHH!”, but I think there is really some validity to the statement that my wheelchair has had a profound affect on me over the past few years that I have used it, in the same way that I have had a profound affect on it. Oh yes, this is not a one way street and I think that’s where the power of it all comes from. No, the chair does not make me who I am, however, it is a part of who I am, possibly one of the best parts, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. In fact, I urge all you adaptive technology users out there to proudly show and respect your equipment!
So sing it loud and sing it proud. The Marine Corp wrote this little ditty to train killers, but with a bit of modification I think it becomes a nice little ode:
This is my wheelchair. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My wheelchair is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My wheelchair, without me, is useless. Without my wheelchair, I am useless. I must drive my wheelchair true. I WILL…
My wheelchair and myself know that what counts in this life is not the batteries we fry, the noise of our burnouts, nor the tire tracks we make.
My wheelchair is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its controls and its tires. I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and damage as I will ever guard my legs, my arms, my eyes and my heart against damage. I will keep my wheelchair clean and ready. We will become part of each other. WE WILL…
Before God, I swear this creed. My wheelchair and myself are the defenders of independence. We are the masters over immobilization. WE ARE THE SAVIORS OF MY LIFE.
One reply on “My Body is a Cage (repost)”
oh jeff! so many sparked thoughts i want to share THEM ALL!!!
the first one is how often I hear how sad it must be to be in this thing and how each time i immediately think how much i love it – like really love it – and even further how deeply and joyously i love my body and how it moves and what it does and the interaction between that and my chair – which, as you say, isn’t about identifying as disabled at all – it’s about identifying as *me*. I couldn’t muster enough language to make this point as passionately as i feel it – body love is a huge part of my life experience…it always takes a minute to catch on to what people are referring to when they don’t recognize that this could be true.
also – once, i had a friend have this moment during a closed – eye meditation become extremely sure i was right in front of her, but i had actually moved and what was in front of her was my chair – in her mind she’d seen it as a throne – a symbol of power and it was so surprising to her to have that thought – i didn’t even blink. later i replayed that from a more common social point of view – wheelchair as power symbol – wow.
I tend to err on the side of sentimental and earnest and poetical – so i’m going to share a poem (feel free to puke 😉 ) the movements of a woman in a wheelchair as symbols of beauty and grace:
A Rainy Morning
A young woman in a wheelchair,
wearing a black nylon poncho spattered with rain,
is pushing herself through the morning.
You have seen how pianists
sometimes bend forward to strike the keys,
then lift their hands, draw back to rest,
then lean again to strike just as the chord fades.
Such is the way this woman
strikes at the wheels, then lifts her long white fingers,
letting them float, then bends again to strike
just as the chair slows, as if into a silence.
So expertly she plays the chords
of this difficult music she has mastered,
her wet face beautiful in its concentration,
while the wind turns the pages of rain.
~ Ted Kooser ~