I wonder why I wasn’t given awards for having been a polio victim. I competed in everything. I was fairly successful.
No one mentioned my polio to me. Coaches, friends, teachers, girl friends.
If I lost, no one pitied me. No one gave allowances.
When I see someone who is physically challenged, I don’t go up to them with questions and congratulate them. In fact, most of the time I might even try to ignore them.
Honestly, we’re more like animals acting instinctively than humans acting compassionately. The animal kingdom ignores the weak member. The weak member usually gets weeded out by predators.
In human culture, handicapped people get weeded out by not being able to successfully compete.
A handicapped person is seen as inferior, and dismissed as quickly as possible. Most, if not all of the time, we want homogenized groupings. Being different loses you points. The only time a handicapped person is embraced is when they have some outstanding trait. For example, Ray Charles was blind but embraced because he was the greatest rock n roll singer and piano player of his generation. Otherwise, differences possessed by the handicapped are shunned, ignored, and eliminated through exclusion.
I’ve concluded there are three categories of people with handicaps:
Category One are those who know they are handicapped, and accept the role of being handicapped.
Category Two are those who are handicapped but do not accept that they handicapped and try to compete on an equal playing field with those who are not handicapped.
And Category Three are those who are handicapped, but not quite enough to fit into the handicapped identity. They either settle in and use their handicap as an excuse or they compete.
As for Category One, I can’t relate to those who accept their fate. In fact, I have a discomfort even thinking about it. You don’t give an inch in this life, no matter who you are or what your handicap is. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
As for Category Three, I had a handicap, but as I grew up and learned to operate within certain boundaries, it was hard to tell at times if I had a handicap.
For example, in my senior year in high school, I had accomplished too much in too many diverse areas to conclude I was looked at as one with a handicap. You simply can’t be a first string water polo player if you have an apparent handicap. And you’re not going to be paraded up in front of your high school week after week with the cutest girls in the student body, if you can’t hold your own aesthetically. (I was a yell leader. In those days either schools had all boys as yell kings, or a mixture. We had a mixture).
On the other hand,
Category Two fits me.
If I extended myself outside of certain boundaries, it became quite apparent I had had polio. Distance running was an example. After running more than fifteen yards my right leg would weaken and my gate would produce a very pronounced limp.
So I have concluded that I was a “tweener”. I was somewhere between Category Two and Category Three. In the case of Category Two, everyone I grew up with knew I had a handicap, but I just hung in there and kept trying. My hunch is that if you do that, after a while your social group begins to adjust to you and lets you in. I think my peer group got tired of trying to ignore me. They had been around me since elementary school. By the time we were all seniors in high school, they had adjusted mentally and were not as aware of my handicap. But the reason for that was I wouldn’t stop trying to excel in things. In other words I wouldn’t go away.
As for Category Three, I found a niche I was good at, swimming. From eighth grade to twelfth grade I swam every day, EVERY DAY. I became a good swimmer; hence there was no reason to cut me out if I could compete.
Let me follow up with a comment on Category One handicaps. There are those who have very serious physical issues. They would try to compete if they could, but many can’t. They are without means to get things done on their own. In such cases we cannot ignore them. We take care of them. We don’t let them languish. That’s the difference between the animal kingdom and ours. We don’t leave ours to the cruel twists and turns of nature. We save the severely handicapped. That’s one of the redeeming qualities of the human race.
When I was maybe twelve years old, my neighbor would pick me up to go to late afternoon Sunday services. On our way to the church, we also picked up an injured navy pilot. He was crippled from his chin down.
Every Sunday afternoon for well over a year we would pick him up and take him to church. I wasn’t interested in going to church, but I knew I had to help Brother Pugsley get the wounded warrior out of his bed and into the wheel chair, and into the car and out of the car and into the wheel chair and be wheeled into the chapel to enjoy Sunday services.
I never heard the warrior complain about not being able to do one thing from his chin down. That’s heroic.
With the help of a lot of people the warrior eventually managed to complete a law degree. A lot of heroes there.
If you didn’t already notice, I’m trying to understand myself in this essay. I doubt I’ll ever really accomplish that. I’ve concluded that having a handicap, no matter what category it is, screws your life up. But, you play the hand you’re dealt the best you can.
That’s what most all people do, handicaps or not.
Awards and recognition for plowing through life the best you can? I don’t think so. I’m satisfied that I’ve had the opportunity to do the best I could. That’s reward enough. No regrets here.