Educating Others

untitled, 40″ x 30″, 2001, m/,

One of the things about my particular kind of disability is that I can’t hide.

There are those of us in partnership with other disabilities like diabetes or emotional, mental challenges or sporting a prosthetic leg who can ‘pass.’

Pass for perfect (cultural definition).

As for me, I’m hard to miss; awkward gait, walker and all..

I used to be able to ‘pass’ but not now.

And I am sort of glad, actually..

Hiding in any form is pretty uninteresting to me anymore after a lifetime of cover-up; I was voted most congenial in high school ((great cover for depression), had no idea who I really was so took on the identity of a juvenile delinquent in school so at least I had a clan ( Chanel #5 is now my signature rather than dirty and torn jeans).

I smell better, feel better and am a real, live disabled woman with a great life.

And yet… I see the fear.

I see the people who look away from me.

They want to look but can’t.

One thing I know about disability is the fact that I remind people of their own frailty.

You know… “By the grace of God, there go I,” kind of thing.

I get that in my bones because I am no different.

I see a scary looking homeless person with vacant eyes and matted hair..

And I look away.

And because I understand the very humanness of some peoples’ response to me,

I make myself a community service.

By that, I mean I take it upon myself to educate people about how to be with me.

I take the initiative and ask for someone to open the door.

And then the important part comes:

I turn to them and look them in the eye with a genuine smile and good jolt of presence and I say “THANK YOU.”

Another example is the time I asked the kitchen to cut up my steak in small pieces before they served me because my hand was not working that day.

I dress up a little in order to represent my demographic to the best of my ability.

All these things I do for my own pleasure, first and foremost,

AND I am acutely aware that my high level of non-scary or depressed presence as someone opens the door or cuts up my steak or sees me moving with some grace through the world,


People are decidedly relieved when I ask for help without a “WOE IS ME” tune playing in the backround.

Folks are hungry… no STARVING for the opportunity to make a difference in the world in a safe way.

I give them a modicum of that, I am seeing.

And so…it is me who must step up as best I can and let people know what I might need.

And this is a challenge for us all…

We aren’t really SUPPOSED to need…

We’re supposed to be capable, strong, almost invincible…(key word: ABLE)

And when we’re not, the acrid green room in some ‘home’ set aside for us is the repository for a cultures’ inability or disinterest in entertaining a reminder of the frailty innate in all humanness.

After a lifetime of pretty high functionality in my sweet humanness,

My own frailty has softened my heart.

It has humbled me.

Forced me out of all the identities I thought were the bedrock of an upstanding representative of the human race: artist, walking woman, independent, doesn’t need help, steak cutter and door opener..

And here I am finally loving myself; wonky walking and all.

And so.. I take it upon myself to shine this light of a different color,

Spread it around a bit,

And see how it softens others,

As they walk away slightly surprised and easier in their own Selves,

Because I gave them an opportunity to make a difference,

In mine.


2 Responses to “Educating Others”

  1. Kel on November 28th, 2010

    Cathy, i can see from your blog you are a visual artist, but boy do you have a way with words. This post is simply stunning.

  2. Sherri on November 28th, 2010

    I have been noticing the discomfort of those around me. Not my husband or my daughter (who is grown) … but of those others in my world. My co-workers, my neighbors, strangers in the store.

    They very obviously don’t know what to say to me, or if they should say anything. They don’t help… or maybe they don’t know if they should help. So I should take your words here…make it a bit easier for them and let them know what they can do for me, or what I may need.

    The people that I have the most difficult time with are those who pretend like I am not there…standing right in front of them as they run me over, literally. Or jump out in front of me, cutting me off so that I must hit my brakes and risk falling down – really sucks because this usually happens just as I’ve got going pretty good ha!


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