Saturday, March 21, 2009

Water Anyone?

They were having an earnest discussion. They were probably in first or second year university, a time when everything seems important and when few things actually are. Each had hair that was studiously messy, one was artfully unshaven, the other had one of those thatches of hair under the lip. Their topic was about how one's view of life affected one's experience of life. Me, I was just at the next table having a tea and resting from a day's presentation.

I had talked, all day, about abuse and abuse prevention as it relates to people with intellectual disabilities. It's the hardest day I do, it's emotionally the most draining, and I always need to go and sit quiet and refresh my spirit. I find a cup of tea, exactly the right tea mind, usually does that for me. There was only one table that I could pull in at as the rest of the place was either filled or inaccessible.

The two student philosophers were off to my left, they noticed me but barely as I settled down for tea. I listened sort of casually as they talked. I had this conversation too when I was younger, my minister had it again last weekend, it doesn't really inspire me to much. Then one of them put a glass of water in the middle of the table and they began with the 'half full, half empty' debate.

I think one of them saw me give a small smile when I saw the 'prop' for their discussion. I wasn't mocking them, not really, I simply thought it was cute. Joe and I used to have passionate debates about things like that when we were in university. Those debates would make us giggle now but boy did we flap our jaws about stuff back then.

Finally, the one with the arty hair and the sculpted scruff called me into their conversation. They knew I'd been listening so figured I wouldn't mind. They explained their contention about life and attitude and then asked me as a 'disabled man' how I saw the glass of water.

"You want my opinion as a disabled guy?"

"Well, yes, but we don't mean to offend." I got that.

"No, no, I'm not offended, I am a disabled guy and my disability does give me a different view than others on some things, I get that, you get that too, that's cool."

"About the glass?"

"Well, speaking as a disabled guy I'd advise you to realize it's just a glass of frigging water and it doesn't matter one whit if it's partly empty or nearly full. It's just water."

"But," one sputtered, "it represents ..."

"It represents," I interupted, "a glass of water. What I've learned as a disabled guy is that what's real in this world is what's worth worrying about. Allegory and symbolism is fine ... but what's real is attitude, prejudice, access, fairness, equality, justice ... I don't care if the glass of water is half full unless I can get to it, I don't care if it's half full if I can't afford it, I don't care if it's half full if it's placed out of reach, I don't care if it's half full if I'm thirsty, but the nurse won't bring it."

"Half the restaurant this town have steps in front of them, another quarter have narrow aisles most of the rest have inaccessible bathrooms, I'd be pleased to worry about the water in their glasses ... but while you're priveliged butt is in the chair worried about it, the rest of us are outside looking in at it. All it is is water that you can debate about and we can't drink."

There was a pause.

"So what do you think?" I asked.

But they'd lost the desire to talk.


Anonymous said...



lina said...

way to throw off their what will they talk about. Great post!

One Sick Mother said...


theknapper said...

Hope they let your words settle & see what's real. You gave them an amazing lesson.

Anonymous said...

that was FANTASTIC! I recently found your blog and am reading archives from day one... You = amazing.

Glee said...

I agree with theknapper. Onya Dave.

Glee see my blog for my latest news!

Anonymous said...

That was beautifully put. If it was shorter I would ask to put it on a Tee Shirt.

OtterB Sarah said...

Thank you Dave. Perspective is everything.

OtterB Sarah said...

Thank you Dave. Perspective is everything.

Matt Kelland said...

Well put - pragmatism over theory!

Myrthe said...

I hope you don't mind me commenting on such an old post.. but here it goes.

I thought this was going into a different direction, namely the one of "This glass is twice as large as it needs to be".

Often, we people with disabilities are seen as "living a half life" just because we can't do certain things, or need support, equipment or accommodations when doing certain things. You see prospective parents talking about "it is unfair to bring a disabled child into the world when we can (increase our chances of) bring(ing) an able-bodied child into the world". (Never mind that aborting a disabled child is not "removing the disability from the child", it is "removing the child".)
You also see it with people in general with language like "I could never live like that" or "it must be so awful" or "you are so brave for [existing]" and the dreaded "You are so inspirational".

Being able-bodied may be a full amount of ability. Being disabled may be less than a full amount of ability.

We don't need a full amount of ability. And "full ability" should not be the standard to which we measure humans. It should not be the default with anything less than it "falling short".
And how full the glass of water is, how much of ability there is, does not say anything about the quality of the water, the quality of life of the individual.

A glass of water is a glass of water is a glass of water. A person is a person is a person. I hope the water is cool and refreshing to whoever wants to drink it. I hope the person is content*, loves, and is loved.

(* Or happy, if you prefer. I view "happiness" as a emotion like anger or sadness that comes and goes, and "content" as a state of being more akin to "I like that I'm alive" regardless of what specific emotion you are feeling at the moment or what is happening in your life. I know other people use "I'm happy" more in a "I like that I'm alive" and "I'm content" more in a "I guess my life is bearable" kind of way, so adjust as you see fit.)