Archives For differences

If I ever meet Kevin Connolly, and I hope I do, I’ll probably stare at him.

Just being honest.

See, Kevin was born without legs.

Is that an amazing picture or what?

In his memoir, Double Take: A Memoir, one story Kevin shares is how he turned the tables on those who stared.  The idea was brilliant.  Kevin uses a skateboard to get around instead of a wheelchair or prosthetic legs, so his vantage point is unique to begin with.  At one point he became so frustrated with the staring, he decided to use his camera to stare back.  He’d skate around and, while looking the other way, he’d snap a picture of someone he could sense was staring.  The results were The Rolling Exhibition.

Double Take: A Memoir, is Kevin’s life story…even though he’s only 26 years old.  “Originally I didn’t want to write a memoir,” he says in the Epilogue.  “The genre felt too loaded for me; I whined and griped about how unqualified I was to write a retrospective on such a short life.”  I love his honesty.  And I’m glad he fought through the insecurities to write it anyway.

If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I also have experience with being stared at.  At some point or another, though, those of us with physical differences realize that our parents dealt with the staring way before we did.  This realization was powerful for Kevin.  As he showed his photos to his parents, his dad said, “We’ve been seeing that your whole life.” His dad also said it was “pretty tough to keep myself from smacking some of these folks over the years.”  A couple months ago I had a very similar conversation with my own dad.  Parents of children with obvious physical differences are a rare and inspiration breed.

Kevin also speaks to the reality of feeling “normal” only within our circle of friends.  Especially those of us with obvious physical differences.  “Unlike me, many people are able to hide their differences from the world.  Whether it’s not getting on the dance floor because you have wobbly knees or wearing turtlenecks to cover that scar on your collarbone, you can exercise some sort of control over how you are perceived by the outside world.  But the fact that I don’t have legs is pretty hard to hide.  Even if I wore prosthetics, I still couldn’t hide the fact that I’m missing these limbs.  Only when I’m inside my circle of family and friends is my disability so familiar that it’s normal,” Kevin writes.  Kevin is so right.  It stil amazes me when my family and friends say they don’t notice my arm is missing.  But, I believe them.  And I appreciate it.

Double Take: A Memoir, is a well-written, captivating story of one young man’s life so far.  Kevin’s stories about his family, his skiing experiences, his world-traveling, his love found and lost (and found and lost again), all from the unique perspective of having no legs, are powerful.  If you’re a parent or a friend of someone with a difference, you’ll love Kevin’s story.  And if you are a person with a difference, you’ll identify completely with his experience.

(Full disclosure: There’s some strong language in the book, so it really is for adults.  Pretty sure it’d be rated R if it was a movie.  Wait…can I buy the movie right to this??)

Here’s a fantastic interview with Kevin.  Also, Meredith hits on him.  Seemed more awkward than if she had just said he was an inspiration.  Anywho…

“Daddy, your eyes are red.  Were you crying?”

Yes, sweetheart.  Daddy was crying.

I finally watched Dolphin Tale (with my kids) tonight and it was fantastic.  The story was wonderful, the acting superb and the message…do I even need to say how much I enjoyed the message?  And while the movie itself made me tear-up a couple times (especially when Winter showed her tail to Kyle), what really set me off was something my daughter Anna said.

At the end they show some documentary footage of people meeting Winter and at one point a little boy with two prosthetic legs walks out to the pool.  I watched Anna’s eyes get big as he came into view and she whispered, “Whoa…COOL.”  Her response made me so proud.

I gathered the kids around me after the movie and we talked about how we should treat people who are different than us.  At one point in the movie there was a little African-American girl in a wheelchair and she only had one leg.  When she was “revealed,” my son Sam said, “Creepy!”  I cringed.  But, it was an incredible opportunity to teach him about how to react appropriately when he sees people who are different.  He totally got it, too.  “I didn’t really mean ‘creepy.’ It just surprised me!” he said.  We talked about how people can be different shapes and sizes and colors, but we’re all people who have feelings and deserve respect.  Even though people may look different, they are living life just like we are.

“Yeah, like you, dad!  You do things different, but you can do whatever you want!” Sam declared.

They’re coming around.  They’re making me proud.

Thanks, Winter, for creating an opportunity to teach my kids about accepting everyone as they are.

Tell about your Dolphin Tale experience!  (Read about Jordan’s amazing experience here!)

Am I Just A Spectacle?

January 13, 2012 — 22 Comments

Sheri asked a great question over on the Facebook page yesterday.  She explained how her family, including her limb-different son, went to visit relatives over the holidays and that she “started to feel like those we were visiting were more interested in showing off his arm than they were in spending time with him.  One relative wanted him to bring his arm so she could ‘show her friends how he’s the same as others.'”  Sheri asked, “Do you (amputee or parent of one) feel like people can’t get past a missing limb?  That the person and/or prosthesis becomes a ‘side-show’ or a spectacle?”

My answer?  Yes and no.

For the most part, I believe people are trying to do the right thing, they just don’t know how to do it well.  They want to show that they are ok with the difference, but then they go overboard.  And this issue of “normalcy” makes things even more difficult.  It’s this strange balance of acknowledging that a person with a limb-difference is perfectly fine the way they are, but also realizing they are different; not “normal.”  You may remember the video I posted of when I was on the news eons ago.  My mother talked about how great it was to see me doing things “two-handed, normally two-handed.”  Was she disappointed that I performed tasks differently than people with two hands?  Of course not.  She struggled just as much as anybody with trying to express her joy in seeing me do something “the normal way,” while appreciating that I did things different and I was fine either way.

Aimee Mullins does a fantastic job in her powerful TED Talk of explaining the fallacy of normal.  There is no normal.  There’s common and typical, but no normal.  Everybody wants to feel normal, but normal is overrated.  However you do things is your normal.  Who cares how other people do it?

As far as Sheri’s questions go, I think people can get past the missing limb.  I actually know they can.  My sister used to tell me to “use your other hand” all the time.  I’d have to remind her, uh, I didn’t have one.  I’ve had many people tell me they forget I only have one hand.  I don’t understand how that’s even possible, but I have to believe them!

That said, when people encounter a difference like ours for the first time, it’s expected that they will not know how to react.  They know they should ignore it, but c’mon, he’s got one arm!  So, then they feel bad asking about it, but they really want to know.  I don’t envy their position.

That’s what this whole LivingOneHanded thing is for, by the way.  I’m putting myself out there as that “side-show” because I realize people want to know how I do things, but don’t want to be rude.  They want to see what’s “normal” for me.  And I’m happy to oblige.

Ultimately, people who are different in any way will have to deal with the fact that people won’t know how to react to them.  People will be nice, they’ll be rude, they’ll be inquisitive, they’ll insult, they’ll encourage…if you are different, you will experience the entire spectrum of reactions.  My opinion is, it will make life easier if you expect that.

This morning, for instance, I stopped at the grocery store to get breakfast.  I gave the older lady at the register my card and then she blurted out, “What happened to YOU?”  “Excuse me?” I asked.  It was so quick I didn’t understand her.  “What happened to you?” she repeated and nodded at my left arm.  “Oh, I was actually just born that way,” I replied.  “Hm,” she grunted and furrowed her brow.  I wished her a good day and went on my way.  It surprised me a little, but honestly, it didn’t bother me at all.  I expect the unexpected when it comes to my difference and I’m totally ok with that.

Is it frustrating to be to be a spectacle?  Sometimes.  Does it get old to be the subject of everyone’s curiosity?  Occasionally.  Do your friends and family get past it?  Absolutely.  And would I change any of it?

Absolutely not.