Sunday, February 10, 2008

Not all heroes wear tights

I wasn't sure what to write about when I heard the theme for the disability carnival was Superman. But I found this quote by Justin Dart about heroism. And considering that the bottom line of a super hero theme is heroism, I figure I'll go with that.

"Finding the courage in yourself to stand for something -- that's heroism."
-Justin Dart

Those of us with disabilities have all found ourselves being put in the unwanted role of being treated as if we're brave, inspirational and heroic simply for doing ordinary, everyday things. But the erroneous assumption behind seeing a person with a disability going out and about as an extraordinary achievement has frightening ramifications when the dark side of that shows up as someone who challenges our right to do so.

Superman's evil villains wear costumes and are easily spotted. If the Joker in full makeup and clown attire came toward me in Starbucks, rudely telling me my wheelchair was taking up too much space and demanding I leave or I'd be zapped, it would be easy to say "Villain. Evil villain." But when some joker dressed as an ordinary citizen does it, the situation is less clear. Onlookers may be divided. And doubt may creep in when you are the one faced squarely with the issue, alone.

Sometimes just sitting there and not giving up one's space, not relinquishing one's place in the world is an act of heroism. That doesn't make having a cup of coffee heroic, but perhaps insisting on one's right to do so sometimes is.

Superman isn't real. If he was, he'd swoop down to save the day when these things happen. He'd take the joker by the scruff of his neck and haul him away and the manager of Starbucks would say "Of course you can sit anywhere you'd like. It's our fault for not arranging the tables properly." Yeah right.

Being rescued by a super hero isn't going to happen. There won't be any dramatic heroics, no cinematic moments and sometimes the role of villain is ascribed to the person who is just trying to stand for something. You can go from being a hero for doing everyday things to being a villain for insisting on doing them when it's inconvenient for others or crowded.

We all have to define what it is that we'll stand for. I see other bloggers do this every day in their posts when they talk about making decisions as to which "battles to fight", which situations to address, and when to just let go of things to conserve energy. It's not easy. It takes courage, a quiet form of strength that comes from inside. There's no audience to applaud, no hero worship that goes on for this true form of heroism.

Ironic, isn't it? Because the very next day after you stand up for something you believe in, someone will call you a hero for simply being out.