I have spent the majority of my life in a wheelchair following a car accident in 1994. It has been a journey that has both had me endure great hardships & revealed some incredible summits of success. I wouldn’t trade my life in for anything different. But, it was the words of my friend the other day that had me paralyzed with how to respond.
“Perhaps one day,” he stated, “I might be racing up & down these hallways with you.” For the past while, my friend has been struggling with progressive physical neurological challenges. I wasn’t sure how to respond. While on the one hand, I wanted to encourage him that physical challenges are never an end to the possibilities of success & the fullness of life. Yet on the other hand, I know it is filled with physical & emotional struggles that no one should truly wish for. The life of a person with disabilities is both overflowing with love & possibilities; but it is also rote with the pain of loss, social marginalization, & personal agony. The power to overcome pivots on the ability to extend one’s personal identity & calling beyond just self interest. I am reminded of the words of Cassidy Hall who wrote, “While this dull ache cannot be ignored, it also cannot be one’s central focus, for any focus solely on the pain, limits the work of love and minimizes the infinite possibilities each of us host.”
There is a story about a paralytic that is carried by his friends to a house that Jesus is teaching in. While not at all describing the frame of mind the paralytic was in, the friends of this man had hoped Jesus might heal him & in a twist of fate, Jesus did. The real miracle though came after this man got up & walked away. The crowd seeing the miraculous things before them that day - the friends faith, the radical defiant response of Jesus to the religious leaders, the man upright & standing tall - it filled them with a sense of awe & wonder to the possibilities of what it means to truly be a community of diversity & unique abilities interdependent upon one another.
Over the years I have seen many responses people have taken to the life change of physical & mental disability. Even the word… disability… carries this false meaning & weight of social loss & being a person of “lesser” potentiality within the community & the rolls our identity can have. But it is in this story of the paralytic that we can see disability is really an illusion to the potentiality of the greatness our abilities can have in community. While we shy away from visibility - closing our doors, staying at home, & keeping friends & family away - it is in our willingness to embrace our community, become visible, & let them carry us by being a part of our life that we can find the miracle of wonder & awe as an interdependent society.
That is not to say it is an easy road to travel. Physical & mental challenges take there tolls & as I grow older, I find myself seeking more & more comfort; not just from my family & friends, but from God & the promises of his love. In a pointedly fashion, Jesus would always ask those who came to him for healing, “What is it you want me to do for you?” As a person with paralysis, I would think it would be kind of obvious but, it seems God wants us to respond relationally with him & tell him the comforts we desire.
In another story of a paralytic, Jesus asks a man sitting near a pool of healing, “Do you want to be healed?” The man responds by telling Jesus how the the system was corrupt, everyone else seems to get there before him, & he has no friends who are willing to help. His comfort was based on the expectations of his own knowledge & abilities while blaming the rest of the community for failing to notice his needs & desires. The man’s own ideological beliefs about his disability & that of the community around him would not allow him to see the potentiality of comfort & healing coming through a different way.
Healing & comfort comes in many different ways & it’s not always immediate. When I first began using a wheelchair, the thing weighed a ton! Yet by my 3rd & 4th chair, more & more technology was available & my abilities to get around easier have improved. Similarly, healthcare has changed. Medications have improved in treating kidney & bladder issues, which were the predominant reasons spinal cord injuries rarely lived passed 20 years following injury in the 70’s & 80’s.
It is ok to ask for healing & we must be willing to express the needs we have that can bring comfort & restoration to the longevity of our live’s. But we cannot blind ourselves to the potentiality of that healing by only keeping it within the expectations of our own ideologies & beliefs. We must be open to the ingenuity of others around us & willing to share our sufferings with others in the patient longevity of realizing today’s quakes shapes tomorrows world not for destruction, but for redemption!
I think one of the greatest lessons I have learned about the potentialities of life within a disability has been the truth that inspiration is never discovered after your expected hopes have been fulfilled; rather, inspiration comes from the willingness to embrace the mysteries of tomorrow while living fully in the challenges of the here & now.
We are not the first society to struggle with the question of why disabilities happen & how to live with the struggles of pain. Jesus’s disciples also came across a blind man once & questioned the uncertainty of, “Why?” The response Jesus gave has always stood out as remarkable to me; “This man suffers not for any wrong that he or any other has done, but so that the works of God might be displayed within him.”
The remarkable reality that pain & suffering is seen by Jesus not because of wrong, but because it is a blessing to the potentiality of greatness being seen within the sufferer. I have always said you cannot put a quantification upon the amount of any one person’s suffering. Just because one person lives with the use of a wheelchair does not mean they are suffering any more or any less than any other person in this world.
But even more remarkable is the truth that the potentiality of greatness within a person is present not just in the removal of their sufferings by someone else (Jesus or otherwise), but also in the willingness of the sufferer to pursue greatness in the midst of suffering. To pursue all things inspirational here & now for the glory of the divine despite the falsehoods of disability projected by our society upon us reveals the ever present potentiality of accomplishing all things our heart’s desire.
As I think of my friends words to me the other day I wish to encourage him saying, think not of the races we might have tomorrow; good or bad. Rather, think of the race we can run together today… & win!