“To love life truly is to be whole in one’s parts; and to be whole in all one’s parts is to be free and unafraid.” Howard Thurman, from Meditations of the Heart
To be whole in one’s parts, to me, includes all the parts of my humanity, especially those parts others might point to as demonstrations of a lack of wholeness in my spirituality. Wholeness is not present either in my humanity or in my spiritual self but in both my humanity and my spiritual self.
Until I was eight, I had never actually seen another person who looked like the humanity of my body. My first encounter was frightening to my eight year old self because he was a tiny man at my eye level, in a wooden cart on the streets of downtown Lawrence, Kansas, and he was selling pencils. This challenged every aspirational goal in my child mind already indoctrinated with ableism and cast doubt on the way in the world I had been so confident of prior to this encounter. I recoiled at the idea that this was my destiny or how others might see me. Within the next year or so I was introduced to the national peer support organization for people with dwarfism, Little People of America (LPA). At a regional meeting I met people who might not look exactly like me but they were all short. They were teachers, parents, an engineer for Texas Instruments who flew his own plane—they had lives and careers and families. I began to breathe. There were possibilities I could see as reflections relevant to me and my capabilities.
In those early years of LPA, I frequently heard the concept that we had to live in two worlds: the world of dwarfism and the “big world” of everyday life. You could not exclude one or the other in a healthy relationship with the whole of your parts. I observed people who only wanted dwarf friends or spouses; people who lived for the times of conference when everyone who gathered at hotels was under five feet tall. I observed people who denied their dwarfism (seems odd but it happens) and only wanted to associate with and marry people of average height as a measure of their success and “normalcy”. I did not see either exclusive attitude as healthy. The physical reality is that the sea of short statured people in the hotel lobby are my people and, to some extent, how I see them is how other people see me. If I cannot see the individuals in the lobby as whole, worthy and just like me, chances are there are ways I have internalized ableism and do not see myself as whole and worthy in the world. The other physical reality is that I live and work in a world that is not constructed physically or sociologically to support the ease of my everyday existence. How I carry myself and the self-image I have of myself is part of how I navigate the everyday world. I am both dwarf/disabled and live in a world which is dominated by those who are not. I have to be able to see myself as whole in both worlds. If I see myself as “less than whole” in either world or both worlds, I will respond to life as defensive and wounded. Just my opinion and experience.
In Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity work, I have begun to observe a dynamic that advocates either the work is done in the silos of identification or in a mixed community of oppressed and oppressor identifications. Again, I find work in both arenas brings a sense of balance and progress for me. In silos of identification with oppressed groups (dwarf, disabled, female), I find the safety to explore how life experiences feel, the barriers I encounter and how to address oppression. There is a sense of community in shared experiences. I continue to experience interesting interplay in the silos, where sometimes dwarfs (and other identified disabilities) distinguish themselves away from disability in general and where silos of dwarfism and racial identification are intolerant of other silos. I’ve observed intolerance of LGBTQ+ and racial minorities in the dwarf community and I’ve observed intolerance of disability in racial minorities for instance. Distancing is always a byproduct of fear and indoctrination with the “isms” we seek to dissolve—but that’s another blog post. In silos of identification with dominant groups (white, cis-gendered, heterosexual), I find the safety to explore where are my blind spots, how do I actively or passively contribute to oppression of others, how do I benefit from that oppression and how can I be a better ally, both within my silos of oppression and out in mixed community. In a mixed community, I may be primarily a listener, bearing witness and learning from the oppressed experience of others, or an educator, sharing my experiences of oppression. While I do not pretend to know the depth and range of experiences of friends who are Black, I have found an intersection in which most Black people and most disabled people have experienced the “invisibility” of being ignored by White, Abled people when we are standing in plain sight. The response is always, “Oh, I didn’t see you.” It is in mixed community those experiencing oppressed characteristics can begin to identify common experiences. Marriage equality is an issue that remains for those with disabilities who have essential benefits from the government and risk losing them if they marry. In addition to convincing the broad category of able individuals that equality benefits everyone, it behooves those of us with disabilities to have those who have advocated for racial and LGBTQ+ equality to join in the advocacy battle still ongoing. They have known the pain of being told your love is not good enough or worthy of marriage.
In community or the realm of “one heart, one world”, we can join our powerful spiritual oneness with the unique gifts of diversity manifesting through our humanity and seek ways to move forward together; to evolve our consciousness in the direction of “we the people” meaning all people are entitled to and capable of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I do not feel it is contrary to this vision of unity to seek strength and a place to do personal work within the space of those who share common aspects of my humanity. Imagine the freedom and power in allowing ourselves to be a part of both/and as we all discover the wholeness of all our parts.
Image description: Black and white image of interlocking Tao symbols making a whole circle.