Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sipping soup through a straw and other vulnerable moments

Even superheroes, no matter how powerful they are, have a vulnerable side. Superman had Kryptonite while the Hulk had major control issues, morphing into his green self at inopportune moments. It seems that we like to keep the most powerful characters we invent just a bit vulnerable to preserve their humanity. (I'm still waiting for a superhero who has to catheterize, but I bet he/she would really have to muster up some wild superpowers.)

We still have a love/hate affair with vulnerability. I see it a lot in my work with disabled people. We use fancy words like "socially inappropriate" when a young man with Down syndrome hugs someone. Why? Because we shy away from seeing vulnerability, whether it's physical, emotional or social.

It seems to embarrass us sometimes. When I sip soup through a straw because holding a spoon isn't a happening thing for me physically, eyes avert except for a five year old who announces that I'm "eating my soup wrong because I'm slurping and tapping the straw". We have an engaging conversation about how his grandfather taps his cigar and he tells me "Well he has just one lung" before his father whisks him away. Inappropriate. Too vulnerable.

And I picture, for a moment, a superhero whose hands won't hold a spoon. He could sip his soup through a straw by day as long as by night he donned his cape and flew over tall buildings. He'd have to compensate by having a dual nature that made up for his vulnerable side. Like Clark Kent is acceptable because we all know he can turn into Superman, the soup sipping superhero needs an alter ego.

I'm rather weary of buying into this scenario. There have been times over the years when I'd exit a soup sipping scenario only to find myself trying to do some superhuman feat. Usually things would not bode well, being a quad. There were private tumbles to earth as I alternated between the love/hate flip sides of the physical vulnerability my disability carries.

And I'm tired of doing that. I think my love/hate affair with vulnerability has ended. It's run its course. I can accept that I'm human and vulnerable. It's okay. I don't expect everyone else to be on board with me because we're surrounded by this sort of thing.

Human. DIsabled. Vulnerable. Perfectly acceptable in my imperfection.

How's that for a concept?


Kitty said...

I love your blog.

I just got home from my second day of volunteering at the library and I'm going to interview for a part time job there the end of this week. I never thought I could go out and start a new life for myself after losing my husband and being disabled. Talking to you was such a help, Ruth.

I'm going to be busy so I won't be by every day and won't email you as much (although I am sure I'll have some ups and downs.) Thank you!

Elizabeth McClung said...

A good blog but not a very American (or even modern Christian) ethos - aren't we all suppose to be able to "work hard" and get better and better continiously? What would Warren of Purpose Driven life say? On second thought, why do we care?

I guess the second response was: exactly what straws do you use, that sounds pretty useful.

I like children because they simply say things, without their hang-ups making it sound hostile: "Why are you sitting down?"; "Why is she like that?" - somehow when adults ask the same question there is usually a self conscious edge to it: "What happened to you?"

Ruth said...

Kitty - that's great news! Let me know how things are going.

Elizabeth- rigid, larger 1/4 in. diameter straws are ideal for soups. If you're interested I've seen some on caregiver.com . I got this sale years ago of flexible large straws that I keep around - but can't recall exactly where I got them. They were hot pink so no one seemed to want them ::shrug::

Anonymous said...

It's never been said (to my knowledge) if she uses a catheter, but the ex-Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was paralyzed (I won't go into the gruesome details here) and uses a wheelchair.
I also don't know if her role as a super-computer expert qualifies her as a 'superhero', but her exploits can be seen in the DC comics series 'Birds of Prey'.
I think this makes her the first female visibly disabled 'hero', nevertheless (from a comics point of view), because she's still been known to get into physical skirmishes with the 'bad guys'.
Her alter-ego is this computerized image known as 'Oracle'.
I always wondered if the writers knew what they were doing when they made this startling change to the character, or if they were just in the mood to butcher yet another female hero.
Regardless, the fact that there actually is a disabled character with a strong presence in a comic book setting seems to me to be a bit of a step forward, and a lot of readers have been smart enough to accept her, too.

Ruth said...

Awesome...I wasn't familiar with the Batgirl/Oracle character but did some googling and found some great images of her. It was interesting to see how she was portrayed so differently in the wheelchair by different people. Perhaps a post for another day? Thanks for the info...