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.