Sitting in the pews at church, having arrived very early (WheelTrans doesn't always accurately predict arrival times) I sat reading the church bulletin. I saw that the speaker was a fellow named David W. Connolly, someone who's name I did not know. The biography listed a lot of accomplishments in dance and choreography. The final two sentences were what caught my eye. "Dance Magazine described his life as being '... the quintessential balancing act between career and community service.' Yet most impressive of all is how he has achieved such incredible success wearing two artificial legs."
This this the kind of "in spite of" description that I won't allow written of me. And trust me, people have tried. "In spite of a wheelchair he managed to eke out a life of passable quality." Kind of shite. But, all that aside, I was interested to hear what he had to say and, let's face it, I was excited that someone with a disability was up on stage.
Turns out he was an engaging speaker. He was funny and modest and very real. He began with his story and he told of his first five years of life spent in a hospital, where they told him that he'd be a wheelchair user for the rest of his life. He followed that up by saying that when he returned home he walked off the plane.
He wasn't doing this as the 'big reveal' they said I'd be in a wheelchair and here I am before you a walker! It was simply part of his story. And, interestingly, this was right at the beginning. Like he was getting it out of the way. The next story made it clear that he used artificial legs, and it was hilarious. It's his story and I don't want to even attempt to replicate it here because his telling was as important as the story itself.
But. When he said he walked off the plane. I tensed. I waited for the wave of applause, the tsunami of approval, that greets these kinds of stories. I waited for the celebration that he didn't end up, like, say, me, sitting there in my wheelchair.
There was no applause.
Not. One. Single. Clap.
Later, he got to the crux of what he wanted to say. He spoke of a time where he forgot that he was loved by God. Where he ended in a very dark place. It was the journey back from darkness that he based his message on. That darkness had nothing to do with his disability, the surgeries, the artificial legs, the message that he wouldn't walk again.
He spoke of the journey back from darkness that all of have to make in our lives when we leave our path and lose our hope.
Slowly and almost imperceptibly, he turned his story from one that was about disability to one that was about simply the difficulties we all face in our adult lives. He spoke of his 'return from darkness' not his 'escape from disability' ...
He was simply brilliant.
Equally brilliant, for me, was the silence. The silence that greeted a story about a boy, destined for a wheelchair, walking off a plane. No applauding hands. No roaring cheer. It was greeted as it was presented as the beginning part of a story. I slowly glanced around the church, I wanted to see who was there, I wanted to somehow let them know, that at that moment, I felt safe in their midst.
This isn't a feeling I'm used to.
The message from the pulpit spoke to me deeply.
The message from the congregation, however, made me feel embraced.