Well, maybe not.
It's been a week of getting mail. In the space of two days I've gotten two letters from people I thought I'd lost touch with. One was a long and chatty missive from someone way back. Nice to reconnect. Actually, it was nice to actually get a real live letter. I haven't had any letters in a long time. I get emails and text messages but this was a 'sit down with paper and pen and write a letter' letter. I finished it and handed it to Joe and he too enjoyed the experience of reading words written personally, and, just for us.
Now, I've got to write a letter back. I realize I've got to give the news in my letter that I'm now a wheelchair user. I wasn't the last time we saw each other. My friend doesn't work in the 'disability biz' and I'm not quite sure how she is going to respond to the news. I don't think it's bad news. I don't want her to react as if I've given her bad news. To me ... it's just news.
I've struggled over the wording and the explanation and I erased way more words than I've written. Oddly, it struck me that the only other time that I had this much trouble writing to tell a friend something was when I 'came out' in a letter to someone who's friendship I valued but who I didn't trust to tell personally. I was afraid, not so much of rejection, but because I knew I would cry no matter what the response was. I'd cry with relief at acceptance. I'd weep with sadness at rejection.
Here I don't fear rejection, I feared, I don't know - diminishment or, worse, pity. Disability just is. It just is part of my experience now. I'm still me - although me altered by new experiences. What words do I use to say, 'hey, and by the way, I'm using a wheelchair now' ... and have that understood in the same way as 'hey, I bought a new car' or 'hey I moved to a new apartment'. I know that maybe it's bigger than those things, I know it means maybe a bit more - but not that much, not as much as other things, not as much as I first thought. Coming out as disabled is just as complex and fraught with emotion as coming out as gay.
For the first time I have some idea about the feelings that parents of a child with, say, Down Syndorme, have when they set about telling people about their child. What words do you use that will encourage a 'congratulations' rather than an 'I'm so sorry'. How do you 'out' your child and 'out' yourself, one as having a disability and the other as having pride in a new and beautiful baby - things that many think are mutually exclusive.
Words. There ought to be words, a language that conveys acceptance and, even pride. Words that weild off pity and sad smiles and seeing 'thank god I'm not you' in small print at the back of someone's eyes.
My life is joyous. Is full of purpose. My life has delicious weekends. My life has meaningful days. My life is wonderfully and completely mine. I value it. I want it valued.
So, I've got a letter, waiting to be written.
Why is this all so easy to say to you. And so very difficult to say to someone, in a letter, someone who once called me friend.