What I Learned When Airport Security Flagged Me for My Limb Difference
I used to be terrified of going on airplanes. I was convinced they’d crash, that there were at least four terrorists on every journey I took, and that I was definitely going to get motion sick and throw up. I’ve since come to my senses, realized those are irrational fears, and look forward to knocking myself out with melatonin and waking up in new countries.
Before I plant my butt in my seat for my 30-ish hour journey to South Africa, two things always happen: I pray and pray that it’s an empty flight so my 5’1” vertical frame can lay across the Atlantic and all of Europe/Africa in a horizontal position, and I get frisked at security. I travel enough to know not to wear any metal or bring prohibited items in my carry-on, yet it’s actually more likely that I will receive a full body pat down than a Tinder regular after agreeing to a night of “Netflix and chill.”
Curious as to why I always get flagged down, I glanced at the screen and noticed something funny — the section on their monitor that was flagged as potentially having a dangerous item on my body is actually where the remainder of my arm would be. Their diagram of the human body is completely red on the lower extremity of the left arm, because it doesn’t understand my limb difference. I’m funky and my body will never fit into the mold of normalcy. It doesn’t get it. These machines are designed to detect weapons of mass destruction, and they send off alarming signals when my arm goes through it, and I love that.
I think of my little lucky fin as a weapon of mass destruction against mass destruction, because without it I would not have an umbilical cord from my soul into the heartbeat of Uphold Global, a nonprofit focusing on raising awareness and empowering local organizations for children with disabilities. Without my funky chicken wing arm, I wouldn’t have met and created a community of people who will stop at nothing to advocate and speak up for the world’s most vulnerable people. Without my little baby arm, I wouldn’t be as passionate about body love, self love and empowering others to live their healthiest lives possible. Without my little hand bomb, I wouldn’t be who I am, and I wouldn’t have this unbreakable, unshakable dream to help kids just like me.
And because of it, we are seeing children attend school, mindsets around disability change and children receiving unconditional love and hope for the first time ever. Because of my arm, I’m able to push my yoga students to be the best and strongest athletes they can become simply because I ditch my excuses at the door. Because of my arm, I’m able to look scared new parents of children with disabilities in the eyes and tell them it’s going to be OK, their child needs them, and their lives are going to be great with their special child. That’s powerful.
You could not pay me a million dollars to have two “normal” arms. Normalcy is overrated and honestly kind of sucks. I’ve been running this concept through my brain since arriving back in Minnesota, and I have been wrestling with a question: what if we all used what could be, would be and society says should be our insecurities as weapons of mass destruction against mass destruction?
When I got stranded in Turkey, a random American expat in the airport heard my sob story at the airport and offered for me to stay with him. I ignored all warnings my parents ever gave me about stranger danger and accepted. Turns out, he was a recently published conflict photographer and his work showed just how powerful bombs are and the amount of devastation the people in Syria are facing. While this was unbearable to see, it also inspired me in thinking about how powerful it would be to use our personal weapons of mass destruction against existing mass destruction.
In our world where symmetrical, size zero, perfect skin and 5’10” height is a requirement for societal norms of beauty, I have every excuse to be self-conscious of my arm. But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what people think of my external appearance. What matters is what I do with my life and how I treat others. We all have different varieties of baggage, hurt, insecurity and doubt. The things we’re battling are 100 percent capable of debilitating us, but when we flip the script we’re able to turn insecurity on its head. We can not only liberate ourselves into a life of confidence, but shine a big light beam into the darkness and grab others struggling with the same things by the hand and say “Hey, it’s OK. You see that thing I just threw down there? In that pit of darkness? That little ticking thing? That’s a hope bomb, a love bomb, and it’s going to explode and screw up all the excuses you have to not live up to all you’re able to.”
I want to live there: in the world where we’re no longer victims of our insecurities, but we use them as grenades and create smoke clouds of love that not only free people from their pits of hopelessness, but create so much commotion that others notice.
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