Yes, today is the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, and I’m sure many of you have already seen thousands of Facebook posts, television clips, and etc. to that effect. But I do feel that the police officers, firefighters, survivors, and survivors’ families deserve great honor and respect, so I hope you won’t mind seeing one more.
Why have I dedicated a post on this blog to September 11? Well, for two reasons. One, disability is, I think, a concept that naturally permeates a tragedy like the falling of the Twin Towers, in more ways than one. On September 11, 2001, we saw firefighters, police officers, and medics put their lives on the line like never before. And what is it that these people do? Yes, they save lives. Death is the enemy of every human who walks, wheels, or otherwise gets around on this planet, and the people I have mentioned should be constantly hailed as the heroes they are for that alone. But the problem is, in our world, a construct exists that says these people also “save” us from disability. No, those words are seldom, if ever, used. And yes, the type of injuries sustained from a 9/11-size disaster are grave and should be taken as, pardon the cliche, dead serious. If healing is at all possible from such an injury, then yes, in a perfect world, it should happen.
But this world isn’t perfect, is it? That was a giveaway question–obviously not, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The problem is that, when people are permanently injured–thus, sustaining some type of disability–it’s seen as a tragedy and curse. Now, again, I am not saying grief over that kind of thing is inappropriate. But once the initial grief ends, where do those who sustain disabilities from these catastrophes–police, firefighters, medics, and especially veterans–find themselves? They are left to contend with a world that not only says, “This shouldn’t have happened to you” (true), but also, “You are now an anomaly, and your state of life will forevermore be unnatural” (false).
Am I trying to say that the friends, families, and other loved ones of people who sustain disabilities don’t care, or that they brand their loved ones as abnormal freaks? No way. Nor am I saying that if you are, say, a veteran with a disability (which includes mental disabilities, PTSD, and other “invisible” ones), that you will be branded as “less than” everywhere you go. Most of us, myself included, will have nothing but respect for you and what you have sacrificed. But because society at large does look at disability as a terrible way to live–as a way that no one should want to live–then those who sustain disabilities from things like 9/11 have to face a two-pronged attack. Not only do they have to deal with the physical or emotional aftermath itself, which is bad enough, but they also have to deal with being viewed through a different societal lens. And as we know, that lens has bookoos of problems in it.
So, for any veterans, emergency personnel, survivors of 9/11, or anyone who has ever sustained a disability from a 9/11-like disaster who’s out there listening: That’s what society says. But the truth is:
1. Your disability is, yes, a different state. But it is also a natural state (read the rest of the blog).
2. You are still a person first and foremost, with hopes, dreams, goals, and a future.
3. Having a disability doesn’t make you weak or “less than” in any way. The truth is, folks, disabilities are not for wimps! If you don’t believe me, go back and read previous posts, especially March’s post on The Survivors’ Club. Or better still, go talk to and spend some time with someone who has a disability, particularly if that disability is new to him or her. What you’ll hear will convince you that they’re blazing new trails by living this way. And no, it’s not “brave”–if what you mean by that is the “sweet, pathetic” version, as in, “Oh, I don’t know how I’d ever learn to ___ all over again if I were you” or “You’re so BRAVE for walking down the block!” No–it’s brave because every day, these people are choosing to survive. They choose to break down barriers and stereotypes. And they choose an ingenious way to live that not everyone experiences. You want to know why I think people with disabilities are in the minority? Simply because I don’t think most of us could handle it!
If you’re a veteran, or someone else with a new disability, who’s reading this and are feeling scared, that’s perfectly natural, too. This is all new to you. And in posts to come, I’ll be offering encouragement (hopefully humor-laced) on what you need to know about living with the big D, instead of letting it live for you. In the meantime, just know that I, and many, many more of us, honor, respect, and thank you. You didn’t have to go out there and fight for us or save our lives. You could’ve stayed home that day–whatever day it was that your life changed–and you wouldn’t be dealing with the things you face now. But because you didn’t do that–because you chose instead to live your normal life, not even knowing if you’d have one in a few hours–
You are not a wimp. You are, in fact, some of the strongest people I know.