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Of Tribes and Truths

imageThere’s a line in Lawrence of Arabia where T. E. Lawrence is chiding a Bedouin leader for killing a man from another tribe for some small insult. “So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people. Greedy, barbarous, and cruel.”

That line occasionally comes to mind as I watch the disability community again and again choose to address its issues by forming up into circular firing squads and shooting each other in the face with breathtaking zeal. I imagine the policy makers and the school administrators and the everyday citizens with no exposure to our lives and our worlds. I imagine them watching our infighting and our persistent dedication to choosing the low road, and instead of pondering the issues that are of importance to this community, they might simply conclude “Wow, what a bunch of assholes.”

We often look like a little people, a silly people. We greedily fight over the scraps of dignity that fall off society’s table. And God, how we can be cruel. The old protest rally cry tells us that the world is watching, but this time that might not actually be true. The unimpaired world largely ignores us as best as it can, and when we are at our worst to each other, that might just be for the best.

I’m not going to link to the latest conflagration to catch my attention, in part because the writer at the center of it is a good person and a dedicated parent and advocate, and she probably isn’t looking for any further exposure at this point. But mostly, I’m not linking to it because in a few days, this post will likely apply just as aptly to some other outrage somewhere. It’s a pattern set on repeat.

I’ve written about this before, as have plenty of others. I’m not sure I want to do so again, because it doesn’t change, and honestly, I don’t think it’s going to. We seem unable to step outside of our own boxes and see the world from someone else’s perspective. We can’t let someone else express their own hurts and their own foibles and failures without making ourselves the center. It really isn’t always about us, and yet we are so quick to insist that it is.

I do it, too. I’d like to stop. I’d like you to stop, too. But we’re not going to, and I guess I know that now.

There’s one point in particular that I hear and I read time and time again. It’s been directed at me for the book I wrote and the blogs I contribute to. It gets hurled with high velocity at parent advocates in particular, often laced with cruelty. It supposes that one day, our children will discover the things we’ve written about our lives with them, and they’ll be hurt. Our honesty will wound them, and our carefully constructed protective shield will crumble.

I can’t speak to that point for any other parent than myself, because I only have a Schuyler. And no one else has a Schuyler, so their opinions about my parenting carry very little weight as well.

For myself, I am frankly offended by the idea that my little girl could have battled her way through a broken brain and past a broken world, could learn to communicate in a most unnatural way and step up to take her place in a society that is frankly ill-equipped to handle her, but one day, this tenacious girl, this warrior, will read her father’s honest account of his experience with her, and that will be the thing that breaks her for good. In the end, the theory goes, she will be undone by the truth.

“What will Schuyler think when she reads how hard this was for you and her mother? How will she feel about herself when she reads about your most vulnerable and human moments?”

I don’t know. I can’t know. But I can say for certain that Schuyler won’t express surprise, because we’ve been honest with her from the beginning. When she’s asked hard questions, we’ve given hard answers. When she’s struggled, she has always known that she doesn’t struggle alone. If she reads confessions of weakness, she’ll have her own moments of failure of spirit to stack up next to them.

I can’t say how Schuyler will one day feel about the parenting job we’ve done. I’m sure she’ll see the mistakes, as glaring as they are to me already. But I hope and believe she’ll also see how we loved her, imperfectly but gigantically. And she’ll never be surprised by peeking behind some curtain of comfort we’ve hidden behind.

I will owe Schuyler a lot of apologies one day, for a multitude of failures. But underestimating her capacity to deal with her reality and ours? Or sugar coating that reality, which is just another form of lying? I feel pretty good about those.

Our little tribe is built on truths that are hard. But I believe those are the ones that really do set us free.

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  1. Mary
    July 15, 2013 |
  2. Annie
    July 15, 2013 |