PERCEPTION

I have a cousin I am a bit in awe of. She is forty-something, tall, slender, stylish, attractive, with jet black hair that is to die for. She is also funny, very well educated and has a fantastic job. She is one of those independent, single women who has a great life, a great career, fabulous friends, supportive family, loves to travel, and is always busy. Unlike me, who is on husband number three, she has never felt the need to have a man around just to have him around. She is a regular “Mary Richards” without all the angst.

My husband and I were watching something on a news program this morning and it  started him on a subject that always gets me mad. How sorry he feels for handicapped people. And he said, “Like that cousin of yours we ran into yesterday. How sad that is. She has such a hard time, she’s really handicapped. It must be such a lonely life she has.” Uhhhh… What? I obviously have many words to describe her, as I just did. Handicapped has never been one of them. Yes, she has Cerebral Palsy. But it does not define who she is. Growing up, in a very large family, we were all treated exactly the same. And trust me, the rest of us kids did not treat her one bit different than we treated each other. She took her lumps like we all did. I do realize she has days when she is more spastic than others due to extreme stress or exertion, I suppose. We have never felt the need to discuss it. It is just the way it is. But she has far more days where you could not really tell, physically, she has a problem. On days like that, it is only when she speaks you would notice anything. Of course it did not prevent her from getting her Masters or a job I would kill for. So I hate when someone looks at this wonderful woman and sees only that she has Cerebral Palsy.

This issue is one that I dealt with myself for many years. My daughter was handicapped. She went through about eighty surgeries before she was three. At the end of it all she was as healthy as a horse with only one thing people could notice. Her right leg was a prosthesis. She was an accomplished horseback rider, soccer player, basketball player and won awards for swimming. None of these things were done in groups/teams for the handicapped. She competed with others her age who were all “able bodied”.  She was also a walking devil, although curly blond hair, big blue eyes and a peaches and cream complexion gave her the look of an angel. So people felt doubly sorry for her. When she was very young, she and I were walking out of the Dunkin Donuts across the street from St. Patrick’s on Smith Street. A man came up to us and said something about the poor little angel and tried to give me money. I was shocked. I tried to be polite and assure him there was nothing poor about her, either physically or financially but thank you anyway. He persisted. Then he tried shoving it into my daughter’s hand. After politeness, rudeness, his blocking my path, I finally slapped him. In front of several members of the PPD. They wisely turned away. My uncle was their boss, granted, but they were a bit more afraid of me. And I slapped. Didn’t give him my very excellent right cross which would have sent him out into Smith Street. I just wanted him out of my way.

This has always bothered me. Handicapped people are people. Some are good people, some are real bastards. You should not feel sorry for them. Many teachers learned that too late with my daughter. I went to see them all before the classes started for the year. I told them, she looks real pretty, but if you give her an inch, she will have you in a padded room before the school year is over. I don’t think there was a single year she started and ended with the same teacher. Except in Ireland, where they didn’t care if she had no arms and legs and was purple. There were rules and you followed them – prince or pauper, smart or dumb, handicapped or able bodied. The rules were for everyone. It was her happiest time in school. She was just another kid – who happened to spend a bit more time in trouble than most, as she deserved.

So please, try to remember that when you meet someone. If they happen to have a prosthesis or other handicap, try to imagine they don’t. And say to yourself, do I like this person? Is this the kind of person I like to hang out with? Or is this an arrogant boor? And act accordingly. Try to remember that this is a PERSON not a handicapped person. Oh, and to all you in RI in the 2nd Congressional District, I would really appreciate it if you would remember it about Jim Langevin. If ever someone got mileage out of a wheelchair, he has. Pretend he is standing up on two good legs and say to yourself, would I vote for this guy? Do I support what he supports? Or do I just feel sorry for him? Because I know a lot of people who give me a hard time when I point out they are pro-choice and he is not, etc. etc. They think I am just a heartless bitch. No, I am not. I just see him as a person, and judge him as a person, not a man in a wheelchair. I would hope that is what he wants.

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