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When a Woman Wanted to 'Heal' My Disability


Long, sleek hair hung like raven’s wings, shielding her round, copper-toned face. A sweeping hand across her cheek revealed large emerald eyes, shining brightly after catching the sun’s reflection off the towering atrium windows just before turning a secretive gaze at me. There I was, unsuspecting of the curiosity I had evoked in a stranger and hovering near an iron rod railing, barricading me from the possibility of an accidental three-stories-up swan dive into the office’s decorative fountain below.

I was silently reveling in the soft warmth of a puddle of sunshine, soaking head-to-toe in the syrupy golden rays seeping in through skylights and unbroken by clouds and daydreaming of the easy-breezy, lazy life of sunbathing cats when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. Unexpected or otherwise, no touch is ever light enough to avoid startling a jumpy gal like me — always on defense, I guess. Jarring away from a feline fantasy, I removed a single earbud and turned to meet the presence behind me.

“Are you on your break?” she asked, a half-smile forming a lazy question mark across her face.

“I’m just stepping away from the screen for a few minutes,” I replied. Her kind eyes sparkled while she said she had something important to share with me. Her words were laced with prideful energy, like she had finally hit a target after some practice.

I’ve become used to this scene — different players and places, but still the same plot. It’s about as predictable a spectacle as Groundhog Day, but instead of betting on the likelihood of an appearance by a mangy ground squirrel with power to control the seasons, I predict the probability of a chance encounter with someone with self-appointed Divine status, filled with Godly powers to affect my health and physicality, my level of human-wholeness.

I sat in my small pool of liquid sunshine, unwilling to share and unable to react — I’m jumpy with a slow reaction-time,  a great combo for thwarting unwanted intrusions of my time and space — before a plum-colored business card was thrust in my direction. Her manicured fingers matched the hue of the laminated card and covered a portion of the curvy calligraphy scrawled across the top, but I had no trouble deciphering the words. She called herself a “Healer.”

“I’ve been healing all kinds for years, she said proudly. “It’s my spiritual gifting.”

I stared through the impeccably-designed business card down to the black Mary Jane ballet flats covering my feet, resting comfortably on the black metal footrests of my power wheelchair. I took a slow, steady breath while I caught up with my speeding thoughts, the circling theories and judgments around why a curious woman claiming miraculous, life-changing powers singled me out of the crowd of bustling business men and women.

This spontaneous interaction isn’t the first of its kind. My colorful life as a wheelchair user is splattered with equally garish people who have made it their purpose to create an audience for themselves by calling negative attention to people living differently, albeit authentically. Imagine these impulsive interactions as novelty buttons with a memorializing tag line stamped in the center — something unintentionally demeaning like: “All differences must be made the same before all people are accepted.” If these imaginary buttons were actually a collector’s item, I’d have unopened boxes stacked higher than the ceiling.

The boxes filled with negative energy from ignorant comments remain in the corner of my mind collecting dust. I refuse to associate with people who — intent aside — pin ideals to their vests that perpetuate a message of one of these things is not like the others; it must be fixed before it can truly belong and feel good and whole.

“I once healed a young boy; he was deaf and dumb, poor thing,” she said.

“Deaf and dumb,” really? 1950 called and they want their institutionalized language back. But opening my mouth to interrupt her story was pointless for a couple of reasons: my words would have been colorfully unkind and certainly not workplace appropriate, and considering how tightly my jaw was clenched from frustration, a few chompers surely would have fallen to the floor. All of my pearly whites intact, I let the self-titled Healer continue her sales pitch.

“A few moments with me, now he is a happy, healthy, regular boy.”

Regular. I cringed, assuming this eclectic stranger’s understanding of the word matched closely with the textbook definition:

  1. Not changing; constant, unvarying.
  2. Uniform; fixed.

Here is my take. All words need some meaning attributed to them, otherwise writers like me would be out of a job and penniless. More importantly, what every person says falls apart; without meaning, our words cannot carry the weight of intention, opinion or expression. However, using language as a tool for self-expression implies free will. Humans have the ability, and the absolute right, to interpret any thought, idea or concept any way that feels right to them. However, no interpretation or assumption of a person, place or thing is entirely correct all the time. Read that five times, slowly.

While this woman has the right to assume a young boy with a disability is neither happy, healthy or regular, that doesn’t mean he is not already all three of those things, simply because he’s a living, breathing kid. I’m onboard the bandwagon whose banner says that all children and adults should be as happy and healthy as possible. But I choose not to ride the wagon whose banner and buttons have fine print assuming someone is neither happy nor healthy based on how they look to other people.

I’ve gotten some flack for villainizing people who “just want to help or pray for my well-being.” I think it’s great when people want to pray for each other’s wellness without trying to change them. I don’t like when people pray for healing when it implies the need to be fixed and “made regular” (referencing the textbook definition).

When people like this woman who cornered me seek out humans they perceive as needing healing — because they have a disability that requires they meet their needs differently, a body that is not socially conventional or a lifestyle that spills over the socially conservative and “acceptable” mold — their intentional intrusion into that person’s life is often not for that person’s benefit. The “healer” actually wants to fix how a person living differently makes them feel, and they can unintentionally cause great harm in the process.

When we are faced with people, places or things we’ve rarely encountered and do not understand, our innate response is often to become uncomfortable or fearful. Our need to fix, change or separate from all of the creatures who do not look like us, act like us, speak like us, think, love or feel like us is likely a basic survival instinct from prehistoric times. But it is not 8,000 B.C. and most of us no longer resemble the cavemen in those Geico commercials. We’ve evolved and so should our thoughts and actions around acceptance and inclusion.

Nine times out of 10, people who appear different than ourselves are not a threat to our survival, but a reason to enrich our lives. Go back to the definition of regular for a minute. Constant. Unvarying. Uniform. Those words sound like synonyms for boredom, monotony and dissatisfaction. Would we really be satisfied living in a world where opinions, actions and attitudes was a one-way highway? I’m going to guess the answer is a resounding “No.”
Every twist and turn of our journeys is a patchwork of the humans we encounter each day. The unique traits making us who we are help to color the experiences and teach the lessons that can ultimately make our lives even better.
When we approach people with the intent to learn and understand instead of judge or to fix, we can enrich our lives.

“I have a disability and I use a wheelchair, but those two facts don’t equal the assumption that I need healing or to be changed,” I said. “I appreciate your concern, but I encourage you to enter into conversations with other people that don’t start with ‘I am a healer.’”

I left her there in my pool of sunshine and went back to my regular 9-to-5 job.

Getty image by Andrey Popov.