Monday, April 4, 2011
C Is For Cripple
Today I am a cripple. I have been since Saturday. Something vile was rendered unto my sciatic nerve and I'm in a heap of ouch. Not only does my lower back feel like The Babe used me for batting practice, but there's this glorious mix of shooting pain and numbness that has taken over my left leg. Lying down is okay. Sitting up straight feels alright. It's standing and/or trying to stand that makes me say words my mother never wants to hear coming from my mouth. In fact, I'm pretty sure she'd like to think they aren't even part of my knowledge base. Fortunately, Mom lives 2800 miles from me.
Yes, I said I am a cripple. I'm sure the Politically Correct of my readers (and if you are PC, what the hell are you doing reading my blog?!) are flinching and thinking, "Oh, Barb... you shouldn't... you oughtn't... aye yi yi..." Well, get over it. I am.
When I looked up definitions for cripple, nearly all of them began with the caveat, "considered offensive." Really. We've wandered so far down the politically correct slippery slope that our dictionaries are now telling us what not to say in so-called polite company?
We really need to lighten up. And I say we, meaning as a collective, because pretty much nothing offends me. I'm irreverent - expect nothing more, accept nothing less. I'm not cruel, just irreverent. I mean, come on! Look at our bodies... they have tremendous healing power, but all in all, they are frail and faulty, and most of the bits look pretty damned hilarious. We were born to fall apart. Do we really need to be so rigid about our view of bodily failings? Have we evolved beyond humor? How sad.
It's no secret that my late mate, John was a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. What made him such a great man was that he had impressive humor when it came to his disability. He was one irreverent cripple, and he'd be the first to tell you so. In fact, in one of his first emails to me, he wrote, "You should know that I'm a wheelchair ridin' smart ass." Humor was a necessary functioning device for him. The ability to make fun of his body's failings was a requirement. And note that it was his body that failed, not the man himself, and it was his body that he made fun of.
Language and it's use is all about intent - syntax and rhetoric can only go so far. If someone like John could call himself a cripple, then who are the rest of us to shy from it? I once had John laughing until he couldn't breathe when he did something nice for me and I declared, "Mama! I love me a crippled man!" He and I both knew that his disability had nothing to do with anything where our relationship was concerned.
People used to call him a cripple, in a pejorative way, without saying a word. They would do it by crossing to the other side of the hall and all but hugging the wall when we went by... as if gunshot injuries are viral. What was cruel was when people, yes, politically correct people more often than not, would tiptoe around and treat him like less of a man for his lack of physical ability. His response to such situations was usually to throw some humor at it, unless the person was just being a total ass hat, in which case he'd simply say, "Get real."
Once, a friend of ours was visiting and somehow we got onto the subject of sleepwalking. The friend said, "I've been known to sleepwalk on occasion." I chimed in, "John does that!" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw John bite his lip to hold in a grin and some laughter. The friend said, "Wha... really?!" I said, "Oh, yeah... always freaks me out. I never know if I should wake him up or what..." And then the friend saw the glint in my eyes, shook his head with a chuckle, and said, "Oh, you rat fuckers..." I've never seen John laugh so hard.
When we had to fill out the form to get a "handicapped license" (and let me just interject here that I detest the word handicap, that generalization that says, "aww, poor you... here's a free pass... that'll make it better..."), there was no box to check that said paraplegic or any such thing. The best option was, "severely limited in ability to walk." So we checked that. Later I overheard John on the phone with his Mom. He said, "Guess what, Ma! I'm not a paraplegic any more. I'm only severely limited in my ability to walk!"
I could go on about the man. He was such an amazing example of attitude over ability. He still is. This is probably why I'm pushing myself to do laundry today, even though my back is crippled. He's a huge reason why I write even when it's emotionally painful to pick at some of the scars as I do.
I won't be crippled by anything in my life. I owe that much to him. After all, he wasn't. He was just a guy in a wheelchair.
Cripple isn't a noun or a verb, or even an offensive term. It's an attitude.