If you’re reading this and think you might recognize yourself, you probably know who you are. If you’re reading this and wonder why I’m writing this about you because this should be common sense, you probably know who you are. If you’re reading this and know I’m writing about you… I’m probably not.
I’m a person with a visible disability. You are somehow part of my life. You could be a colleague, a teacher, a friend, a stranger in line at a coffee shop… less commonly, you could be a family member or a romantic partner. Your life could’ve intersected mine in a hundred different ways. Before meeting me, you’ve usually had little to no experience with the day to day realities of living with a disability.
And yet… you get it.
You get it in ways I can never put into words until I fumble and falter and try and thank you for just understanding so I don’t have to explain at all. When I stammer out the words of joy and gratitude I feel from deep in my soul, more often than not, you remain still for a moment, eyebrows raised, and ask me with all seriousness what the big deal is. Because more people should understand. You think that more people should stop asking intrusive questions. You believe that nobody should grab my body when “trying to help”. You think I belong at the table just like everyone else, and you’ll quietly move heaven and earth to level the playing field so I’m part of your group and not just a token participant. You understand why some ideas are so harmful. You may not know what my life feels like, but you leave me plenty of open space so that I can fill in the gaps – not because I owe you an explanation, but because you know that so few people leave their agendas at the door.
You may be a new friend, or a colleague who got to know me on that project one time. You may be a stranger who offered assistance when I was standing in line at a coffee shop and just knew how to help and let me be when it was no longer required. You may be a random group of people who regularly play board games. You may be a part of a group of musicians. You may be a member of a sports team or other club. You could literally be anybody. Often times, you intrinsically understand me – and my life with disability – better than many of my family members, partners, or friends. As much as we love them, there’s always been a growing experience, an adjustment period, a drawing of boundaries. With you… that’s never once been there. You’ve always just… known. You’ve never called attention to my disability, but you’ve never neglected its presence either. You’ve never asked questions unless they directly flowed out of a conversation we’ve been having. You’ve understood – with no input from me – why little things that many people say shouldn’t “get to me”… get to me. You’re furious on my behalf at intrusions into my privacy, and yet you’ve given me space to fight the battles myself. You’ve presumed me competent when I’ve spent so much time trying to convince people that I’m not just a child in an adult body. For all of this, you have my undying gratitude.
You get it.
All of it.
And you’re right, more people should. But maybe, just maybe, if more people did… I wouldn’t be so aware of the rare and precious mystical belonging places. It’s more than the absence of negatives; you’ve given me something that so few people have… the gift of true acceptance. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Go ahead, raise those eyebrows. If you think I might be talking about you – if you remember some stammered, incoherent conversation about thankfulness and gratitude toward you – I probably am. If you don’t remember this conversation… that’s OK. I’m probably not writing about you directly right now. But I could be… or someone else could be down the line. Read this post again. And again. And again. And let it sink in. It’s not hard to “get” disability; it’s a leaving behind of preconceptions, a listening to what’s being said, an opening to a change in script. I’m eternally thankful for people who intuitively “get it”, and also for those who want to get it, own their missteps, and don’t lay all the emotional labour on me. It’s never too late to move forward, to be that person that doesn’t understand how something so simple can be so profound.
And yet, it is profound.
You get it.
And these fumbling, faltering words are the only ones I can come up with to adequately express myself. But maybe, just maybe, they are enough.