Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Yeah, I'm different. So what?

Good day, fellow lasagna lovers!

Today I present something completely different. I posted this to Facebook last week, but I don't know how to make things "public" after they're posted. So here's a thing I wrote about, essentially, treating people like people. Thanks in advance for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts with me!

The world is a strange place these days, friends. I’m learning so much about a lot of people. Some of it makes sense, but a lot of it doesn’t. And I’ve thought a lot about people being, well, not treated like people lately. And I figured now is a good time to write down some of those thoughts; not to accuse or attack or anything like that, but to offer a perspective that objectors might not consider. Because in addition to standing with those being cast aside because of where they’re from or who they love or, at the very core of it, simply who they are - I relate to them. Maybe not directly, as I’m a straight, white, American-born male. But because I’m not exactly like everyone else.

Some of you out there in blog land know me in real life. But not everyone knows my deal, so here it is: I have Cerebral Palsy. No, I’m not out for sympathy - I never have been and I never will be. I can do lots of things people with CP can’t, and for that I consider myself very lucky. I don’t expect this to be some kind of “shocking revelation” either. Consider it the backbone of my musings here today.

In the simplest terms: I walk funny, I can’t hold my head straight, I trip a lot, and I am unable to ride a bicycle. I wasn’t like other kids, and a lot of the “yutes” I dealt with had no qualms letting me know exactly how they felt about me - whether they knew me or not. It hurt to be treated that way, and I’d be lying if I said it still didn’t when people on the street look at me a little too long or mutter to their friends as I pass.

I’ve been pushed around, ridiculed, labeled a freak. (One time, two kids stopped me on the street: “Are you retarded? Yeah, you are.” I didn’t react in the best way, but that’s a story for another time.) All of this because on the surface - he looks calm and ready to...sorry - I was different. And to many people, different is scary and evil and wrong. I’ve spent my whole life pondering why they have this fear of people who aren’t like them, and I’m not close to an answer. I may even be further from one.

Different is: those two men or women want to get married. “That’s gross! Let’s pass a law!” The reality is: they’re just people who are in love.

Different is: those refugees want better lives. “They’re terrorists! Get them out! Ban them!” The reality is: their homelands are destroyed and they just want to live normally.

Different is: transgender people want to use their new restrooms. “Pedophile! Go at home!” The reality is: they have found new identities and want to live openly in them after hiding it for so long (and really, they just want to relieve themselves).

When I read and hear people say hateful, ignorant statements like my [admittedly general] quotes up there, I feel sad for them. Yes, different can be scary. But when you pump out buzzwords and stick to antiquated beliefs, you miss the most important piece of the puzzle: they are all people. And, in at least that way, they’re just like you. Doing their best to live the only way they know how.

The other prevailing thought when I read these things? I remember how much it hurt me to be dismissed because I walked funny. To be put down, pushed around, labeled a freak, called a retard - because I couldn’t do one thing like everyone else. Because I was aesthetically different and, apparently, that made a lot of people mad. Because I was wired just a bit differently, I was good for nothing.

If you’re on the opposite side from me on this, I want you to do something for me. If you think that gay people getting married is an abomination and will somehow ruin your life. If you think that all refugees escaping persecution are just coming here to destroy us. If you think we should force transgender people to go against their new identities because they could be pedophiles (or whatever the argument is). Basically, if you think any group of humans should be treated like dirt because they don’t look/act/pee/love/whatever like you, do this for me:

Whenever you think about putting one of them down, imagine it’s me. Imagine that the administration calls a conference tomorrow and passes a law saying anyone with CP must live in isolation, to be cast out like a leper (because, you know, the Bible and stuff). Think about what that would do to me: I couldn’t be with my wife. I couldn’t see my mom/dad or my siblings. I would lose my dog and my guinea pigs. I wouldn’t be able go to work. I couldn’t come crap open a cold one with you or high five you at a baseball game. I would be banished to a life of I don’t even know what, because someone is afraid of what he doesn’t understand. Because I’m just a bit different.

Is it selfish of me to ask you to do that? Maybe. But it’s no more selfish than dismissing refugees or members of the LBGTQ community as people because they are different from you. And that’s the point here: I was dismissed because of who I am. Since you are my friends (I hope), you took me into your lives. You looked past my limp and crooked stance and said, “sure we’ll talk to this kid at lunch sometimes.” For that I am eternally grateful. And I only ask that you give these people being discriminated against - for basically the same reason - that same chance you gave me.

So there it is. If you made it this far, I sincerely thank you, even if we still disagree. It means a lot to me that we’re buddies, and that I don’t have to go through nearly as much as I used to because I have people to stand with me.

And while I may not be in as dire of a situation as some, I want to put it out there that on some level, I get it. I stand - crookedly - with you. I just hope that my words reach some people, maybe even change their minds. But if they can’t, and if you take nothing else from this, understand at the very least: we’re all people just trying to live life. Give us the chance to do it.

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