Your Prayers Can’t Fix Me. I Don’t Need to be Fixed

You’re at the mall early Sunday afternoon, looking for ballet flats to replace your pair that is falling apart. It’s not your favorite place in the world, but it’s not horrible. You’re there early enough that it’s not crowded, and your fellow shoppers seem to be enjoying the day off work, so the atmosphere is pleasant enough. You’ve found your shoes and picked up a black and white polka dotted dress that you don’t need, but might look cute enough to take on your trip next weekend.

Then a woman walks up to you. She has that typical young suburban mom look: jean jacket, expensive jeans, dusty blonde hair with highlights, pretty, with just enough makeup to hide the first signs of age, but not too much that it’s not flattering. She says excuse me,  and you wonder if you dropped something. You smile.

She gives you a big grin, moves in a little too close to you and does that weird hoppy thing that high school girls do when they find out that their best friend has been asked out by a football player. Excited, happy and overly insincere. You mentally brace yourself for a question about where you got your jeans or advice that your shoes just aren’t quite right for your outfit (you knew this already, but that’s why you’re getting new shoes).

Instead she says “Can I pray for you and your disability?”

You freeze and stare at her, forgetting what your line is. Luckily your brain can do this on autopilot “No, you may not.” you say, then as she opens her mouth to respond you add “Please get away from me.” You’re not sure where the please came from, but file it away anyway. The woman responds “Well, God bless you” tosses her hair and walks off.

You’re still frozen. Suddenly, the years of building up your body and your psyche fall away and you’re that strange preteen on crutches, the one who has to hide before school because the bullies will knock her down if she ventures out into the hallway. The one who has every step from the front entrance to the band room memorized (300 of them. Step, hop, step, hop… you count because it’s easier to count how many steps you’ve taken than to look up and see what kind of pain you’re in for.) The director lets you sit in there and hide while he keeps out the bullies.

Now, you can barely see through the haze of your differences. You logically know that most of the people in the store don’t care enough to look, and if they do, you’re a momentary curiosity to them, but suddenly you’re other, in a way that feels very vulnerable, very exposed. All of these other people, they’re normal. You’re not one of them. How could you ever have thought that you were?

Fifteen seconds ago you were normal, just one of hundreds of shoppers out on a rainy morning. You were completely, comfortingly anonymous. You were whole with all of the traits you’ve worked so hard over the years. The pains, the insecurities, the things you’re embarrassed about, they were all hidden, inside a somewhat pretty girl shopping for dresses. You weren’t thinking about the way you walk because honestly, most of the time, you don’t. It’s not that bad. There’s no pain accompanying it, now that you’ve slowly worked up to the point that you can maintain a decent level of exercise. The only things that really remind you of it are the weakness running up the outside of your leg where there should be a muscle taking up the slack, and occasional questions from friends or small children who are curious.

These reminders don’t bother you. You’re always happy to explain the things that are different about you: an honest question is a chance for honest understanding. Plus, it entertains you how embarrassed parents are when their kids ask a question like that. The weakness only matters when you’re trying to pull two very specific moves when climbing, and you’ve learned to climb around most routes that require that move.

However, the request to pray for you does hurt, in a way that anyone who has never been abnormal can’t understand. The request hurts because it is not only a statement that you are different, which is okay, but a statement that you are different in a way that needs to be fixed. It is a presumption that removes all strength from you and puts it into the hands of this healthy, perky, privileged woman.

You’re not just hurt for yourself, because you know that at the end of the day your limp doesn’t impact your daily life in any way. You’re angry for your friends, who have much more difficult challenges they’ve overcome. You’re angry for the children of your friends, who have challenges that they will have to overcome. This woman, and the women like her who make this request of you every two months anger you because you know that she will ask these people you love, these wonderful, strong, able, whole people, if they mind if she tries to fix them.

Because none of you need fixing. When someone asks to pray for you, a stranger, they are saying “you are less than me” “you are not good enough to fix yourself, so you must need my condescension”. Make no mistake, that is what they’re saying. They have good intentions, yes, but you don’t say to someone who you think is on your level that you want to make them better. You don’t single them out as someone in need of charity. You ask them what their needs are. You ask them what their experience is. You  try to understand.

Please, let your child ask me questions. Let them say that I walk funny and ask why. Because then I can kneel down next to them, explain that because of a brilliant surgeon and supportive hospital, I have a body that works. I can direct them to look at the positives of my experience rather than the negatives. I can ask them to focus on who I am and who I’ve worked to be, as a woman, a scientist, an educator, rather than focusing on my hindrances.

Then, maybe, the next person they talk to, they might think “hey, this person is strong”, “this person is like me”, this person has worked hard to be where they are, and they don’t see their physical or mental limitations as things to be fixed by outsiders, but rather something that is part and parcel of who they are. And maybe, just maybe, they won’t be the kind of person who goes around trying to fix people who don’t want or need it.

Or maybe they’ll grow up to be an orthopedic surgeon and fix me in the way I do need it, when I come to them asking for help. Either outcome is worthwhile to me.

 

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Individual Media Streams in the Information Watershed

I have a Sunday morning routine when I’m alone and have no reason to get up early. I sleep in, then I make a latte (or two), gather my cat, a bowl of oatmeal and my iPad, open the curtains and sit on the couch.

 

I’ll glance at my Facebook notifications, look through the first few posts on Google+, check my email and then turn to Twitter, where I find an ever-fascinating stream of articles and commentary on just about every topic, trending mostly to science, but with other things thrown in.

Am I a bit of a social media addict? Yes. Am I isolated? No. No more than I would be if I had a newspaper spread out in front of me.

At my sister’s wedding in October, my father gave a beautiful speech. He talked about togetherness and communication, about love and strong relationships. Even my normally-stoic brothers and I had tears in our eyes by the end. The man is an amazing speaker.

One of his main points was the distressing trend he sees in people constantly having their heads bowed over electronic devices. It’s a fair enough complaint. He sees people not communicating with each other as they sit in the same room. Our family does this a whenever we’re all together. We all have laptops, iPads, cell phones out, and we’re all doing our own things.

My dad sees this as isolating, and to an onlooker, it probably is. We’re all caught up in our own separate streams of information. My sister is on Facebook on the iPad while her husband is playing a game of their laptop. My brother is surfing reddit and showing us cute animal pictures he finds, in the effort to get an ever-more rapturous squeal of “aww!” My mom is on ancestry.com, gathering research about our ancestors. My father is reading the newspapers. And I’m on Twitter, catching up on what the science communication community is talking about.

We are  isolated, in a way. But we’ve always been this way. even when there was no computer in the house, we would all be in our own little worlds: the worlds of books and magazines, of newspapers.

We are information-seekers, all of us. The typical advice for turning your child into a reader is that you need to read in front of them. They need to both have books around and see the people in their lives as People Who Read. I grew up in a house where my parents were always reading. I saw them read every evening before bed. Even if one was watching a tv show,the other one was usually in the same room with a book. My siblings and I adopted this same behavior. We all read constantly and voraciously.

It is a common refrain that the Internet has made us lonelier, that we no longer talk to people around us, that we live more in a world of “likes” and “retweets” and “+1s” than a world of true, person-to-person sharing.

I look at my Twitter feed on Saturday morning and I know this isn’t true. My feed, at any given time, has links to the most thought-provoking articles in mainstream media, the best blog posts, breaking news, and beautiful works of art. It has my friends sharing their triumphs, and asking for a shoulder in their sadness.

Twitter is not just a world of sharing what you ate for dinner or making inane comments about celebrities. Sure, that’s there, in the same way it’s everywhere.  Like any other medium. You choose what you want to see. You can choose to read the  celebrity-stalking pseudo-journalism of People, or you can choose to read the cultural touchstone of The New Yorker. You can pick up a romance novel or formulaic thriller, or you can read the newest Paolo offering. You can watch Transformers, or you can watch Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

They all have their place, and the same person will switch between all levels of media depending on mood, interest level and time. Yes, we are all in our own little worlds, our own little filter bubbles or hall of mirrors, or whichever trendy phrase os chosen, but those worlds are no different than the media consumption worlds in which we’ve always placed ourselves. They are no more deserving of exaltation or recrimination just because they happen on an individual device rather than the more public tv or library selections.

I may not be sharing the same newspaper that thousands of others in my city are reading, or watching the same tv broadcast, but I never would have been. I would have always been selecting the articles that I wanted to read, the segments that I wanted to watch. And often, I would have left the room for the tv parts that weren’t interesting to me.

Yes, our heads are bowed over our separate digital worlds, but they always have been. And they still look up when we find something interesting, whether a quote from whatever my father is reading, a clever way of solving an in-game problem from my brother-in-law, an update on a family friend from my sister, an obscure fact about out history from my mother, a science factoid from me, or The Most Adorable Baby Goat Video Ever from my brother. We may have all created our own media streams, but we still take pleasure in the sharing of something delightful from those streams, the moments where we all can enjoy the gem that someone else has found without having to wade through the parts of their interests that are boring to us.

After all, we can share those little moments of togetherness because we can all be in the same room, experiencing our individual worlds in the way that works for us.

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