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The Buccaneer Life

medium_2523131526I saw something in passing the other day, I’m not even sure where. Facebook, probably. At the time, I couldn’t decide if I thought it was brilliant or goofy. I’m still not entirely sure. I’m leaning towards goofy, but not necessarily in a bad way.

In considering literary or even historical figures to serve as a kind of representative of people with disabilities, the concept goes, we shouldn’t be looking to characters like Tiny Tim who suggest weakness or limitations. We should choose figures of strength and power.

We should choose pirates.

It’s an interesting thought, to be sure. Aside from the fact that piracy and disability are not actually intrinsically connected, however, the concept presents some obvious complications, not the least of which would have to include turning for a positive representative image to a group of people who were, by definition, a bunch of murderers and thieves. “Hey, kids! Don’t let your impairment keep you from reaching for your dreams! If, you know, those dreams include stealing and killing.”

Another rather impolite but undeniable fact might be that where disabilities are concerned, unlike our kids and loved ones, pirates did actually sort of have it coming. If you are living with a limb difference or a visual impairment, that’s a profound and serious challenge that you in no way brought upon yourself. Unless, of course, you were shooting or stabbing or firing off cannons at someone whose stuff you were trying to steal. Clearly, pirates can be an unsympathetic lot in that respect as well.

(This is assuming, as I think it’s safe to do, that the choice of piracy usually preceded the disabling injury. You don’t easily imagine it happening the other way around. “I was going to be a hair stylist, but I don’t know, the peg leg just sort of lent itself to this line of work. I had to buy my own parrot, though.”)

Still, there’s something to be said for the idea. So much of living in the world of disability, either as a support person or someone with that disability, involves having to find a way to navigate social rules and narratives which are made difficult or impossible because of the impairment in question. And the world feels very little incentive to accommodate those differences.

Follow the rules, try to keep up, and perhaps you’ll get to participate in this place in a meaningful way.

The thought of striking out against that, of hoisting a flag of defiance and breaking down some of that restricting world’s walls? That’s some powerful fantasy material for those of us trying to navigate the sweet spot between this rock and that hard place. You don’t have to ask us twice if we would like a turn at the cannonade. Our flintlocks are already loaded.

I rather enjoy the idea of our loved ones feeling a kinship with fierce, ruthless pirates. If our kids’ presence in this world is to inspire fear, as it seems to no matter how hard we try, can we at least occasionally pretend that’s it’s not the fear of someone who’s different and just trying to make it through the world, but rather of someone who might run you through with a sword and steal all your doubloons? If fear and distrust is required, must it also be demeaning? Can’t it be a little empowering now and again, even if just symbolically?

Most of all, I suppose I like the thought of my daughter and her friends representing themselves with romantic figures who suggest lives of adventure, ones lived far off the standard paths.

Plunder is optional, of course. No need to push our luck.

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