“Are you watching videos or working?” said Chris yesterday at 2pm, just after we’d settled back at our computers after lunch. It took him about 15 seconds to realise that might not have been the best timed comment, because, well, I was bawling. And yes I was watching a video – but the five minutes of “Because who is perfect? Get closer” were more than worth it. It was part of a disability awareness campaign where Mannikins modeled after disabled people’s bodies were displayed in mainstream shop windows. It reminded us that we all have dignity, no matter what we look like. Because really, who get’s to decide who is – or perhaps more specifically – who isn’t perfect?
My biggest hero in life is my very brave, very cheerful, very funny nephew Michael. He is 13 and he’s got a rare muscle and bone condition that means he can’t walk or even move very much – but he has an awesome electric wheelchair that he scoots around school with. He’s had more operations than anyone I know, and before the last batch – removing 8 teeth and getting a spinal fusion (!!!) – his remark was “Well let’s just get it over and done with”. Did I say he was brave? Yes I did – but I’ll say it again. And funny. And he hates most vegetables but loves junk food, like any other kid his age. One of my favourite conversations with Michael (then aged about 4) goes like this:
My sister Laura: Michael, what do cows eat?
Laura: What do birds eat?
Laura: (dramatic voice) Annnd, what do CROCODILES eat?
Michael: (realising he doesn’t like crocodiles) ummm… CARROTS!
No, Michael doesn’t like crocodiles and he doesn’t like carrots, and he also hates home work. But he loves playing computer games with his friends and drawing. In fact, he’s made a collection of illustrations for a South African organisation that generates awareness and funds to help otherwise-abled kids called the Chaeli Campaign. I remember Michael, his sister Nina, and all the kids in both of their schools collecting thousands of plastic bread bag tags for an initiative where the plastic was exchanged for wheelchairs for kids from underprivileged areas in Cape Town. I was lucky enough to be there when Michael presented the wheelchair in assembly – he knew how much his cool wheelchair meant to him, and how having one can change a life.
I guess it changes the way you see things when someone in your family would like to walk but can’t, and then seeing that being able to walk or not doesn’t define them anyway. Disability shouldn’t have to be a box that limits or categorises people as different – and neither should things like race, class, or gender, for that matter. But often these imaginary boxes colour the choices we make, like who our friends are, who we sit next to in a train, what jokes we make when we’re surrounded by people who look like us. And what a shame! Choices like that make us lose out. And I guess that’s what I appreciated most about video I watched yesterday. It reminded us that we all have imperfections, struggles, hopes, and dreams to be beautiful or accepted. And everybody should be allowed to get on stage, or in the shop windows, to help us build our picture of “perfection” or “normality”.