Saturday, June 06, 2009

To You

It's early Saturday morning. I've been up reading for about an hour, Joe is still in bed, book in hand. I love these quiet mornings. At home, in a hotel, it doesn't matter - the quiet of a day without expectations is simply lovely.

I got up yesterday morning facing a day long lecture, another one, and I just didn't much feel like doing it. We breakfasted in silence and then drove quietly to the college where I was to spend the day. There was already bustle and activity when we arrived but we met with our contact who greeted us warmly. It's an older building and the way down to the floor of the lecture hall was built during a time without imagination. A time where it was never concieved that someone in a wheelchair would ever take the podium. But I am evidence of change and we made our way down a service elevator and along a service hallway and into the room.

I pulled my notes out and began to organize as the room filled. I was doing the day differently than I'd ever done it before. Casting away some old stories, adding some new and twisting the topic just a little to the left. As a result there was a sea of papers in front of me with scratched notes that would lead me through the topic at hand. I've lectured in MA a fair bit and when I looked up I recognized some faces and recieved a few welcoming smiles. Energy was starting to enter by way of waves of nerves. There were a lot of people there.

Speakers know that it's all about the audience. All about others willingness to take the journey with you. And it's true. The audience was hot. I found my self saying things I've never said before and the hall would explode into laughter or disolve into tears. It was a wonderful experience. When it was over it was gratifying to have a couple of hundred people rise to their feet and applaud.

I was shuffling my papers getting them ready to be packed up. I wanted to be careful, as I said this was a new way to approach the topic, I didn't want to lose what was done. I knew I would take part of the weekend to jot down the flow of stories and points so that I could do this again. I want to do it again. Then someone was standing in front of me. I looked up and smiled. She seemed a bit nervous but began by telling me that she had seen me lecture many times over the years. I thanked her, nervous of what was to come.

"I wonder if you know," she said, "how much your own disability is now informing your lectures. Last time I saw you, you were in a wheelchair but the lecture was just 'Dave in a chair'. That's changed. Now you are allowing your experience as a person with a disability into the lecture. Yes, this lecture was funny, funnier than I have words for, but it was also the most profound lecture on disability I have ever attended. Thank you for allowing disability to teach you and reach us."

It was, as you can see, a wonderful comment. I thought about it a lot and I realize that I have been approaching my work differently these past months and years since I became disabled. With every new experience of discrimination or inclusion, I understand something different. With every new assessment by some professional of some kind, I feel something different. And yes, these experiences make a difference. I believe that 'Rolling Around in My Head' has been part of this process for me. Having a space to come to to talk about my disability, my place in the world, has been an incredible priviledge. In fact all the new stories, that's all ... have been told here first.

Only a couple of days ago my visitor count topped 300,000. I wanted to say something then, but didn't know what. But after that compliment, I wanted to pass it along to you. To those who come here to read and in doing so encourage me to write, thank you. To those of you who comment, either to reinforce or to challenge, a special thank you. I believe my life as a man with a disability has been enriched by taking time to think about what is happening to me, to allow myself to become informed, not embittered, by the experiences of daily prejudice, to ensure that I note kindness and tolerence when it happens - all these things have resulted in a kind of 'knowing' that would not happen with an unexamined life.

So, here's to you. 200 hundred people stood and cheered me yesterday, I hope you can hear the echo, it belongs to you too.


Anonymous said...

Good Morning Dave....I am newly disabled (in last two years) from congenital hip dysplasia and one botched hip replacement. I was at PATC in Lancaster and used pink canes. Many things you said I have felt but not put words to.....thank you for sharing your stories - I am still getting used to this whole different way of walking so believe me you have helped - so thank you again. Billie Schwab

lainer said...

Good morning. I was one of the ones who stood and applauded yesterday. Your work around sexuality and people with developmental disabilities has me following you as my "guru". Yesterday's talk was so different, so personal and so present that I am even more of a fan. You are an amazing man, Dave. Thanks so much for sharing your life and stories with us.

lisa said...

How is your leg Dave? Concerned fans (all of us) want to know if you are all right.


Anonymous said...

I was at the lecture yesterday and you opened it up to questions and so badly i wanted to make a comment so I will do it here. I am a new mother and when I was pregnant I was offered test after test (I am a little over 35). The tests all seemed to lead to the same end, do I have a baby with Down's Syndrome? Judging by the voracity at which they test I can't imagine it is because they are planning a welcoming party for babies with disabilities being born. I guess my point is, how hard is it to expect people with disabilities to esteem themselves when the bottom line is more people would chose not to welcome a baby with Down's Syndrome into the world. I fear for things like genetic markers to disability: what is next, babies with autism? schizophrenia? obesity? I wonder if you have any thought on this?

CJ said...


I had the same experience almost 12 years ago. I Was pregnant and age 37. My screening test indicated my son may have Down Syndrome (he doesn't.) The negativity was incredible. I had the amnio so I could be prepared not so I could abort. I share your concern.


Thank you for this blog. I look forward to my daily reading and thoughts.

Lisa said...

thanks for sharing your journey with us Dave.
I am hoping to be able to see you speak one day.

CJ said...

Ok, I just got back and I have to share this. I have a client who is 18 years old. She finished school. I was invited to her graduation party. This young woman is exceptional. She is a ray of sunshine. After I see her my heart smiles.

Anyway, the party was wonderful. Family, friends and even former teachers who have moved 4 hours away came. Her parents wanted to thank G-d and all of the people who had helped her come to this day.

You know who else was there? Non disabled peers. Teen girls, teen boys from the football team and all of their parents.

Imagine that. :<)

Suelle said...

Thank you, Dave. I honestly can't tell you how much you've touched my life. I saw you at a presentation several years ago in St. Louis, MO & I've read your blog ever since.
Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I want to add my thanks to you for this blog, for your willingness to share your journey with us, for your reflections on that journey, for confronting abuse and neglect where you find it, for recognizing kindness when you find it, for being who you are and sharing that with us. Dave I especially like that you don't pretend to have all the answers but are willing to struggle with the questions. It is heartfelt learning for us all I think.


Anonymous said...

Hi david...I was also at the lecture last Friday. It was a very powerful day overall. Your lecture was inspiring and very thought-provoking for me and I like having my thoughts provoked in that way. I agree that there was a sense of unity on the room and think there were some very like minds in the room. I appreciate your sharing your knowledge and insight. Thank you, Jane

syrayes said...

Hi Dave, I was at this lecture as well, yet another who stood and applauded. You are truly an amazing person. Your lecture inspired the entire room and I am grateful I had the opportunity to listen to you. I'm glad you mentioned your blog and will pass on the link to my coworkers who have been asking if I found it yet.

I have an adult son with a disability as well. I always encouraged him to look past the labels of society and know that he is just as "able" as anyone else. I hope he has the opportunity to hear your lecture someday.
Thank you