Somebody down the street always has it worse

One morning last week I had terrible trouble buttoning the top button on my dress shirt. My right arm and hand are largely decorative, as opposed to functional, so such simple tasks can be difficult. It may strike you as a silly frustration but for the briefest moment I felt just a little sorry for myself.

As suddenly as that emotion hit me it was replaced by the thought of my friend Jennifer Longdon who struggles with the very genuine difficulties of navigating a wheelchair and the debilitating troubles brought on by a random highway shooter several years ago. Jennifer recounts her challenges often on Facebook and any friend of hers quickly comes to realize the real pain of disability.

I felt foolish for lamenting my trivial challenge when many people like Jennifer know genuine pain and obstacles from hell.

Actually I learned that lesson very early in my life and I tell the story in my book, “Some People Even Take Them Home.”

When I was 11 or so and still in a pediatric ward I contracted an infection and was placed in protective isolation to protect against the dangerous spread of mysterious bacteria to other patients and staff. Everybody who came into my room, from nurses to doctors to Mom, donned surgical robes and masks.

As I wrote in the book: “The desolation and loneliness of that imprisonment were suffocating until two surprising teachers arrived to show me how fortunate I was.

In the room next to me were two young people I never met. They had as profound an effect on me as anyone else in my 64 years. They were two-year-old twin boys and they had been severely burned in a Saginaw, MI house fire. I knew the boys only by their constant and hideous screams. They were critically injured and their skin was obviously gravely tender. I listened to them yell in agony for hours on end. Horrible, piercing cries communicated unbearable torment.”

Even at my tender age I was sharp enough to realize that my own infection was small potatoes. Those boys taught me the true meaning of suffering but I vividly remember the slow dawning of a vital truth.

I have no idea if those little boys survived. I pray they did. What did survive was the belief burned into me that somebody down the street, or around the corner, or in the next hospital room always, always, has it worse than I do. That’s why I try so hard to smile through tough times. I hope those screaming, crying boys have made me more caring and more generous.

A little thing like that damned shirt button serves to remind me how grateful I need to be.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

If I want to be inspired by you, by God I will be inspired

Something has been eating at me since before the holidays.

A woman I admire deeply, essentially says I can’t admire her because I am just making myself feel better.

The argument is when somebody says “You’re so strong,” “you’re so brave,”… these are stories we tell ourselves so we don’t have to mess with anther’s jagged edges. We are told these are not compliments, they are abdications of compassion and understanding.

A well-known feminist and disability activist, Harilyn Rousso wrote a book in 2013 called Don’t Call Me Inspirational: A Disabled Feminist Talks.

Her argument is similar to the woman I admire. She comments in this article: “Inspirational is an easy reaction.” The author of the article said what Rousso resents is that people feel inspired by the fact that she gets up in the morning, gets dressed, dares to head out the door, and lives her life despite what others see as insurmountable obstacles.

Harilyn writes in her book, people think that “If you were me, you’d never leave your house and maybe even kill yourself. So I am inspirational because I haven’t committed suicide–yet.”

The article says Rousso contends calling her inspirational “without hearing what I say or knowing who I am is just a label or a stereotype. I’d rather you wait until you get past your initial, superficial, prejudicial reactions, see who I am and then decide if you like me or even hate me…at least those judgments would be real.”

Okay I will stipulate to the fact that just because I see somebody I should not and will not find them inspirational. I never have. However, if I observe someone carefully and I find them inspirational, if they fuel my fire to be better, if they make me see that I have to buck up and face my own challenges, then by God, I will choose to be inspired and I won’t feel guilty about it.

Let’s face it, I approach this from a different angle than many. I find many people inspirational, but because of my physical disability, my son’s Down syndrome and the recent death of my wife, I have also been honored to be told many times that I am inspirational.

I do not make the choice to judge or condemn the person that finds me inspirational. I know I am not perfect and that a more thorough search would produce a better inspiration, but who am I to judge what inspires that person?

The core problem with Rousso’s anger, in my view, is she is making this all about her. I think it is important to respect the feelings of the inspired person. If somebody is inspired by what they see as courage or determination or even kindness, I think I need to respect that.

I trust that anyone with a disability can absolutely and quickly smell and feel pity and that pisses me off too. I have felt it and I despise it. I think it is a very dangerous assumption, and probably an expression of my own repressed anger to equate expressions of inspiration with pity.

I believe we all have a purpose in this life and if one of mine can be to inspire then please feel free to be inspired.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance