What is wrong with you?
Early on, everyone with a disability must resolve how to answer this perennial question. Whether your disability is easily visible and the question is almost a greeting or whether the question doesn’t arise until your disability is revealed, the question comes. Sometimes there is a follow-up: Why can’t you…. If you’ve grown up with a disability, you’ve mastered some sort of answer by the time you are an adult. If you’ve acquired a disability, the sad news is that in the midst of grieving whatever function you have lost, you also have to come to terms with answering this question.
As a child, I learned quickly that I was expected to answer this question by explaining my dwarfism was a lack of bone growth. As I got older, I added that God makes everyone different; different sizes, shapes and colors. Coaching children to answer puts two burdens on a child. First, by answering with information you do not challenge the “wrong” part of the question. You answer what is wrong with you. Repeatedly the child hears and absorbs “there is something wrong with me”. Second, the expectation the child will answer with information imprints on the child that they are expected to share personal information with total strangers. By virtue of their difference, they are not entitled to the same sense of privacy and personal space everyone else gets. Honestly, I coached my children in the same kind of answers I always gave. Today, I would teach them differently.
Nothing is wrong with me. Different is not wrong nor is it bad nor less than. If responding to a child, I would add “And your parents should explain that to you.” The task of teaching children about differences is not the duty of all the people around the child who are different than the child. Especially if it is a child-to-child interaction, no child should have to defend their right to exist to a peer. The idea that this applies equally to adult-to-adult interactions should not have to be explained but here it is. I don’t owe you an explanation or information. I will not leave the idea something is wrong with me unchallenged!
I often go to the story in John 9 as a metaphorical guide to Jesus’ response to disability. The story begins with the disciples questioning: Who sinned, the parents or the man, that caused him to be blind? Definitely a judgement that something is wrong. Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” So nothing is wrong. Let’s think about the last portion of the response—so that God’s works might be revealed in him. So why are any of us here? So that God’s works might be revealed in us. Same deal for all of us. People with disabilities do not have some special directive nor are they excluded from purpose and value. Then the story is odd. Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash it off. For me, the mud represents all the judgments, limiting opinions, and disrespect heaped upon all of those judged different but especially those with disabilities. Then Jesus tells the man to wash it off. It is an action the man himself takes, inspired and guided by Spirit. “Then he went and washed and came back able to see.” Here is where I feel strongly about metaphorical meaning, not literal meaning. What did he see? The literal and even common metaphorical meaning is that his sensory eyesight was activated. It was a physical healing. Yet the passage says he was a beggar and no one could recognize him now. He was a changed man. Here is what I think he saw—he saw himself as a divine being, worthy and capable. He stood straighter, walked with confidence the familiar paths, he changed his appearance with a sense of self-esteem. The transformation of consciousness is a powerful healing that is possible for all of us. How many of us need restoration of our ability to see ourselves as worthy; as divine heirs of the kingdom? How many of us never notice the mud placed upon our vision, layer after layer, day after day? How many of us are willing to take action when divinely inspired? Or do we wait for someone/something else to act upon us for healing?
During Lent we are encouraged to give up something. Our Unity Lenten booklet lays out a plan to let go of the negative and take up the positive. Let’s give up the mud! Let go of mud we heap upon one another and the mud that we accept when heaped upon us. There is nothing wrong with you; there is nothing wrong with others. If anyone asks what is wrong with you, do not affirm the idea by explaining what is wrong. Challenge the idea! Deny it has power over you! There is nothing wrong with me. We may be different but that does not make one of us wrong! You do not owe anyone a further explanation. Let us take action to wash the mud away, thought by thought, and see ourselves for the brilliant expressions of Spirit each of us is. We are here so that the works of God may be revealed in us. The Divine shines in every single, radically whole, one of us. Shine on!