This week my husband and I did a speaking event to raise awareness of brain injury and discuss issues that families affected by brain injury face in the community. There was some really great dialog and story sharing, and it is something we hope to do again.
Afterwards, one of the attendees approached us, and said something that really affected me. He said: “You know before I heard your story, I just felt really bad for you guys, being so young and everything… But now I feel like you just have so many opportunities.”
It was a powerful realization;
- That we are not limited by our circumstances
- That our lives are not dictated by my husband’s disability.
- That there is still so much that we can accomplish, even if we can’t do all the things we could do before.
- That our will to make a difference and live life to the fullest is strong enough to overcome the challenges we face and still be happy
Though we know this, it is so amazing when other people can see it too. Too often all they see is the disability; the struggles, the changes…they define us by what we can’t do. And in doing so, they forget all that we can do. When people treat you like you are someone to be pitied, it’s not inspiring, empowering, or motivating… It drags you down and makes you feel inferior to the people around you, when you’re not.
Pity isn’t like compassion. When people are compassionate, they are willing to actually get personally involved. For example, a compassionate person doesn’t just watch a lady in a power chair fall into the grocery isle (and definitely does not take a picture and post it online). Instead, a compassionate person goes forward and helps them. Furthermore, families with disabilities don’t just need help from other people- we also need people to raise us up (just like families who don’t have disabilities).
Everyone benefits when people are kind, compassionate, empathetic and positive. That’s not to say that you should constantly have a smile on your face no matter what and try to fake happiness…we can’t repress the negative, because we need it in our lives for balance and to connect with others (as weird as that may sound). Without loss and struggle there would be no compassion, no gratefulness, no empathy…emotions that tie us to one another in strong ways and permit us to help each other heal and grow, if we let them.
So when you look at us walking down the street, don’t think of us as ‘pitiful’. Don’t think that just because someone is disabled that they have less options, or that they can’t live life as fully as you can. Remember that they are equals, fighting different battles, doing things differently, but at the end of the day, still equals. And don’t ask yourself what you can do to help them manage, but instead, ask yourself what you can do to grow as a person alongside them, or what you can do to make sure your community is completely inclusive.
When you can fully understand that we are all equal, regardless of our jobs, regardless of our wealth, and regardless of our health, then it’s clear to see that we’ve put these distinctions up ourselves that divide us, and they can just as easily be brought down to unite us. And that’s how powerful, positive change can be created.