If there are places in this blog that you think I sound angry, I am not. I am impatient for the awakening among all of us of the commonality of our struggles and our divinity. If there are places in this blog that you think I am too blunt, I cannot apologize for my approach to challenges. There are no names so I am not calling anyone out or trying to attack anyone. This is just me wrestling with an issue in an open dialog.
I have dwarfism. It was dwarfism awareness month in October and I am fully aware, as many of you are, I have dwarfism. I have a disability. Dwarfism and disability are two words people seem to be uncomfortable saying. Instead of saying these two words people say what feel to them to be softer, gentler words they are more comfortable with: little person, vertically challenged, height impaired, differently abled. I suspect part of the discomfort is a well-intention-ed avoidance of offending me (or anyone these words are directed to) and part of the discomfort is acknowledging that these words are part of a package deal. Avoiding the word is a way of denying that the rest of the package deal is real. Marginalized and oppressed groups are familiar with the package deal and those with privilege are becoming familiar with the depth of denial we will burrow into. Marginalized and oppressed people are becoming aware of the degree to which we have internalized the messages we receive and the denial within ourselves.
The package deal for me involves the bias associated with the words dwarfism and disability; a history of institutionalization and denial of education; the social isolation of difference; the inconvenience of functioning in an environment not built to support you; the constant proving yourself worthy to sit at the table with the privileged; and the strain on family relationships when you are the only one disabled. Please understand, I am still working on my own denial. For years I avoided the word disability because I wanted to deny the reality of the package deal. I kept hoping that even if I was short, I wouldn’t be judged on sight; my accomplishments could speak for themselves without me proving myself over and over; I’d be accepted in social relationships; I wouldn’t be the only one different in my family. Dwarfism is a medical diagnosis. I can live with that. I am over denying disability because it simply is the reality I live in. Denying does not minimize any of the package deal. For privileged folks, denying the reality of the package deal means no one is responsible for changing the reality. No one has to acknowledge the inequities, bias and damage being done to other human beings.
When we get over denial, sometimes we move to pride. Not every one does. Not everyone gets over denial and not everyone moves to pride. I do now. I began to distinguish between how the world viewed me and how I viewed myself. If the world chooses to judge me as less than, broken or flawed, I could see myself differently. My Dad would not listen to talk of institutionalization. Although no one counseled me, the salutatorian, on college, I found it on my own. No one thought I’d succeed in law, but I persevered. If the world chooses to create physical and social barriers, I can see them as obstacles but not defining limits on my potential. Whether the world sees me as worthy or not, I can claim my own worthiness. Every family has complicated dynamics; being the only one different in my family of origin is just my dynamic. As a parent, I created a family of origin in which my children saw everyone in our house had dwarfism and we still have challenging dynamics.
I have dwarfism. I have a disability. To avoid these words may make you more comfortable but it also ignores a block of my life experience. You are saying you are more comfortable not looking at the challenges and the struggles I contend with daily. You are saying no one has to change the way society and government and religion looks at, interacts with or excludes people with dwarfism and disabilities. Honestly, although it may make you more comfortable to say “little person” or “differently abled”, it is not really a gentler way. I was amused thinking about the LGBTQ community being “differently oriented” or BIPOC being “differently hued”. “Differently” assumes there is a “right” way and a “different way”. It is not a gentler label.
One of the keys for me to be able to shift from denial to pride about these labels everyone is intent on applying was an understanding that ultimately, I am more than my body, my intellect and my emotions; more than the labels placed on me; and more than my struggles. The Truth is I AM a spark of the divine, clothed in this journey through a human experience in the particular body I have. I have the abilities I have. I have the gender and sexual orientation I have. I have the race and ethnicity I have. There’s nothing different about me or anyone else because each of us is uniquely human and each of us is equally divine. That is the beauty of Radical Wholeness, the diverse way spiritual wholeness shows up. I hope some day the labels we use stop coming with such a heavy package deal or maybe we stop labeling people and just label canned goods. I hope someday denial and marginalization won’t be the primary way we deal with our differences.
Image description: walker on the threshold of home with welcome mat