Disability, Forrest Gump, and the Absurdity of Individualism

Disability is a blessing.  It sounds like a cliche from all the many uplifting and inspirational movies and books that we have all seen and read.

Think Forrest Gump.  The feather hammocking down to the ground and landing at his feet. Think of the triumph of finally breaking out of the shackles bound around his legs for so long.  That film is a metaphor for life lived freely, thoroughly and uniquely.

I was in my adolescence when I saw Forrest Gump.  I was touched deeply by it.  I remember feeling grateful for its lessons in simplicity, gratitude, and clarity.

When I was feeling defeated by so many different things: acne, teenage politics, bullies, and whatever my cerebral palsy had to do with all of it, seeing Forrest Gump reminded me of simplicity, the sacredness of my own life, the meaning of my story as a person with a physical disability, the importance of staying hopeful, and the victories I had already won up to that point.

I wouldn’t have been able to tell you this then simply because I didn’t yet have the words for it, but seeing Forrest Gump also taught me about the absurdity of the idea that I had to navigate the burden of my disability on my own.  After seeing the movie, there were no life-altering changes–no huge paradigm shifts that occurred to me.  Just this one idea that there was no shame in relying on others when I needed to do so.

Seeing Forrest Gump flew wide open the gates that were once shackled shut by my own insistence on doing things on my own.  Before, I wanted to prove to others how strong I was by carrying my own burdens.  Afterwards, I saw great wisdom and strength in relying on others when I needed their help by letting them lighten my load.

It started with just a small behavioral switch and a new awareness about a quality that most others had that I did not: sure-footedness.

How solid most other people are on their feet still astounds me.  I still can’t see how I can knock into someone by accident and bounce right off of them as if I had just bounced off a tree.  Other people’s sure footedness and rock-solid, steady, and assured balance was something that I needed to rely on more, especially when I needed a little extra stability.

Where I once was proud to navigate unsteady ground on my own, hands to my side, no matter how many times I fell, I now began practicing a new behavior of reaching out my hand to others and relying on their more assured footing.  This is the blessing of disability. Disability is a constant reminder that this life is most fully lived in concert.

Reaching out my hand to grab another steady hand or to gain my balance by anchoring myself to a nearby shoulder sounds small.  It’s something that takes only seconds and often goes unnoticed.  But it allows me to take a step or two with an assuredness that I don’t have on my own, often helping me to avoid falling.

Getting rid of the notion that all my steps had to be taken on my own was a big first step in shedding the shame of having cerebral palsy.  Reaching out my unsteady hand to grab a hold of a steady one was an early way for me share with others my story as a person with a disability.  And I could do it all without having to say a word.  This was my way of breaking out of the shackles bound around my unsteady legs.

This healing walk started long ago with small steps like this.  Now, I’m taking bigger, louder, more confident, unshackled steps.  Just make sure your steady shoulder is there for me to lean on.  I’m going to need it.


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