Thursday, March 22

setting the record straight

I've taken the week off, more or less. My aerial fabrics session ended last week and my vaulting class was cancelled this week. This, and the fact that this weekend is shaping up to be the Bermuda Triangle of activity, I took to be a sign that I need to lay low for a while.

And my body really needed a rest. Sometimes I forget how much I am actually asking of it on a weekly, or even daily, basis. The last four or five weeks, I've been struggling just to get by without ending up in a clump by Friday afternoon. To be fair, I've been under a heightened level of emotional stress lately and for whatever reason, one tends not to plan naps to forestall mental exhaustion. But I really should.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I readily admit that I enjoy most of what I do, and more than that, I find a greater sense of purpose in my current occupations, which is more than a lot of people can say. But still, good things can get the best of you.

And for me, they usually do. It's not hard to remember a time when being the best was more obligation than suggestion for me. Growing up with one arm, over-achievement was the norm. It seemed the only way to prove my value. The army's "Be All That You Can Be" motto might as well have been mine.

But these days, I love myself a little more, and I have less and less to prove. So, when a siesta comes knocking, I gladly open the door. Relaxation has proved a greater friend than achievement ever was. Rest accepts me just as I am.

But I've been irked out of my peaceful resting, and by the most unlikely of reasons. While perusing the blogs that I've forgotten that I follow, I came across a disability post on a young woman born with no legs and only one arm with three fingers. The headline read: "13 year-old Kayla Wheeler skis, swims, bowls and that's not all."

And that was all I read. It was all I had to read. I already knew the whole story. But it was still bothering me today, so I clicked on the video...

The friendly local news anchor introduced us to Kayla's story thusly: "If you're feeling lazy or tired tonight, perk up and pay attention; there are no more excuses."

Enter Miss Wheeler, a true poster child of disability, who, in addition to the above mentioned sports, plays the piano, coaches swimming, and played baseball and took ballet before hitting puberty. She is currently the U.S. record holder of her class in the 50 meter butterfly, and hopes to compete in this year's Paralympic Games in London. A mass of metals hangs on her bedroom wall.

So much for my restful week off.

Kayla is certainly a very talented and driven individual. Undoubtedly inspirational. There was a time when she might have been my hero, but I'm having a different reaction this week.

I'm frustrated. Kayla's story reminds me of a growing resentment I've been feeling toward disability publicity. If you only knew disability through media, you might come to believe that all people with handicaps are excessively active over-achievers, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro on all-fours like Kyle Maynard (if he had all fours, that is).

More than overcoming the odds, these handicapped celebs are leaving the odds in their dust. No wonder, as a child, I believed I needed to go above and beyond to be even noticed. Only the exceptional get press. Considering how many people with disabilities are over-achievers, clearly I'm in good company.

But my journey took an unexpected turn in early adulthood. I had to face my limits, accept them, and more than that, learn to love them. And a funny thing happened--I stopped needing to summit mountains.

Don't get me wrong, I think Kayla and Kyle, and even my Limbless Nemesis, are noteworthy individuals. But do you have to be outstanding to be worthy? And why do I still find myself sometimes believing I do?

Just last week I was stewing over all the things I want to be doing while I am still young--write, ride, teach, join the circus--and realizing that it would take more than one lifetime to appease my ambition. It quickly becomes the perfect storm for disappointment.

In praising those with handicaps for outsmarting disability, are we not actually reinforcing the old exaltation of physical or mental prowess.

These ponderings have actually caused me to question my own desire to attend the Paralympic Games this year as a spectator. Have I bought into the belief that the handicapped are only admirable when running fast on steel legs? What ever happened to walking?

I took a walk this evening with my friend Opie. We joked about planning our stroll like an old married couple. But it was lovely, making our way down sidewalks of pink-blossomed trees in the momentary light of dusk.

"This has been a great day," Opie remarked.

"Mmm," I agreed, though I'd actually spent most of the day fretting over what was not being accomplished.

"The most important thing we accomplished today was enjoying it," he concluded. And he was probably right.

Sometimes when I want to do everything, the best thing to do is nothing at all. Maybe I'll be the first handicapped person to go on achievement strike.

Do you think there's a record for that?