By some accounts, I’ve been a pirate for more than 2/3 of my life. Well, I’ve at least had a peg-leg for that long. An incredibly realistic one that routinely fools strangers and even doctors who supposedly know it’s not real. But inside the fancy cover, in its heart of hearts, it’s a simple peg-leg from the country. Have I ever wished I could grow a new one like a starfish (sea star if we’re being technical) can regenerate its limbs? Abso-freakin-lately. Then I could have continued my budding gymnastics career, tragically cut short at the tender age of ten. Cue: Bob Costas voice over…
That not being possible, though, I switched to swimming and biking and got more into music, both playing and singing. When my lungs no longer allowed me to do those things as well as I preferred, I changed my focus to yoga and writing.
It’s been an evolution. Continual adjustment. I would be lying if I said I never resented having to change course so frequently, but that’s life. My need to adjust has just been perhaps a bit more compressed than others. Again, though… That’s my life. I apparently like to cram as much as possible into the shortest amount of time. One need look no further than my medical history to see that. It’s like that quote from Peter Pan: “I suppose it’s like the ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.”
A friend and I guest lecture together each semester in a masters class at George Washington University. Our lecture is focused on disabilities and health disparities. We have a great time seeing exactly how polite and appropriate the students try to be and how uncomfortable we can make them, calling each other “handi-capable” and “differently-abled” and the like, before they break down and join the discussion. (Spoiler alert: those are actually condescending terms.) Their alternative is to listen to us amuse each other and be shamed when I bust out the cricket sounds app on my phone. I digress. In the lecture, we present three models of disability for their consideration and then ask them to tell us which is the “right” model.
- In the charity model, people with disabilities are depicted as victims worthy of pity who are saved only by the generosity (and often money) of others. If the charity model had a theme song, it would be Sarah McLachlan’s Angel. Imagine her ASPCA commercial, only with people. That’s right… I went there.
- The medical model defines disability through symptoms and syndromes in need of a cure. Medical professionals are the experts. Coldplay’s Fix You is the obvious theme song for the medical model.
- Finally, the social model views disability as a construct of the society in which a person lives. In this model, the person with a disability is the expert in their situation, and the disability is not necessarily something to be “fixed.” Rather, it’s up to society at large to proactively work towards the full inclusion of people of all ability levels. Let’s go with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way as the social model’s theme song.
The students inevitably say the social model is the “right” model, and a spirited discussion ensues. In reality, there is a time and a place for all three models. None are universally applicable or appropriate. There are certainly things that I turn to the medical community to “fix.” But having lived so long as a pirate with a greatly reduced lung capacity, I am also accustomed to adapting my approach as my circumstances change to find new and different ways of doing various things, and to modifying my surroundings to allow myself to continue whatever it is that has become challenging. This works for me, and people who push too hard for me to let them fix things that I don’t think need fixing only make me more stubborn in my opposition.
The concepts of adjusting and accommodating can be quite perplexing to those who devote their lives to fixing broken things. However, there can be great beauty and dignity in “broken” things. Polly teaches me this on a regular basis. She loves many things with reckless abandon… me… sleeping on pillows… walks in the woods with Grandma and Grandpa… rolling in smelly things she’s allergic to right after getting a bath… and most especially her stuffed toys.
Oh, how she loves them! So much so that they often require emergency surgery (vain attempts to prevent her from pulling out/ingesting more poly-fil (ha..) stuffing and plastic squeakers). She is beside herself during the procedures, whining and pacing until Mr. Giraffe or Woodstock, for example, are returned to the questionably safe haven of her toy basket. Try as I might to bury recovering toys in the basket, that they might fully heal before returning to the play rotation, she digs through the basket, casting aside lesser favorites until she finds them. Upon locating them, she generally takes a celebratory lap around the room with the toy in her mouth, shaking it from time to time, before settling down with it between her front paws to hold it steady as she weakens the fabric by repeatedly licking the same place… Puppy love! Her final act of re-beautification is to gleefully rip it open and surround herself with stuffing. Like she’s on a cloud. Which she is… cloud nine.
Shame on me for “fixing” what she so lovingly creates. Who am I to say what constitutes “broken,” anyway? Mayhaps I am just not thinking creatively enough about how best to utilize broken things in their newfound wholeness. I daresay that applies much more broadly than just to a puppy and her toy friends.