Nothing but a cripple.
1 Corinthians 1:25-27
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a cripple. (I can use that word, because my body is crippled, too.) The world was kept from knowing the extent of Roosevelt’s disability by the compensation tricks he developed to give the appearance of his walking — and also by the willingness of journalists to keep secret his difficulties in getting out of automobiles. Why did he have to hide the fact of his weak legs from others? Because Roosevelt wanted to lead the people as President of the United States, and he believed, as they believed — that a true leader cannot be perceived as weak in any way.
What is physical strength?
Because Ken Burns documentary film on the Roosevelts is on my mind, let’s continue for a moment with Franklin Roosevelt — a physically disabled man who used a wheelchair, and who not only became President, but also became the strongest and most influential president of the 20th century. He was a great world leader, a man of confidence, vitality, strength, and action. He was not a weakling. No one knew him to be a pushover — even though he could have easily been pushed over by the slightest jostle when he was ambulating on his braces and crutches. The fact is that the paralyzing effects of polio did not diminish Franklin Roosevelt’s inner vitality and confident action. In fact, because his paralysis made him physically weak and dependent on others for daily acts of survival, he developed a strong, intimate compassion for others who felt helpless. Enduring his own sufferings made his heart and his resolve stronger. Being fatigued more easily in the body, he grew more tireless in his mind. Some experts believe that he might never have become president at all, if not for the timing delay that the polio caused for his candidacy. Most experts agree that his muscle wasting illness made him, instead of just president, a great president.
So, again, I ask: what is physical strength?
I have often been told that I am an inspiration. And I have often wondered why. Most of the people who have told me this have done so after knowing me for only a few minutes. Usually, I don’t have to say much of anything at all except the usual casual pleasantries. I know it’s because of the wheelchair. They see me all crippled up and crumpled up and they, if they are normally functioning humans, feel a kind of pity, or sorrow, or even scared, nervous repulsion. Exactly the kind of reactions that Franklin Roosevelt did not want to elicit. But, then they see my smile. They look into the intelligence of my eyes and witness my genuine joy, smiling across my whole expressive face, they hear the normalcy of my voice — and they are surprised. No one expects joyful strength from someone who is physically weak. Those who personally witnessed Franklin Roosevelt’s physical struggles, and knew something of the suffering and the fatigue that his disability caused him, admired him with a deeper intensity than those who only received the illusion of physical mobility. They got to experience, as we do now, the fullness of who he was as a person and exactly how brave he was — how strong.
That’s something people have also told me: that I’m brave. But… I don’t really know what they expect me to do. Should I dampen my natural tendency to joy because of the underlying sorrow of my disease? I mean, I don’t like not being able to walk. And I am frustrated, disappointed, and annoyed that other people have to take care me. Hate is a strong word and I rarely use it — I will say that I hate to exaggerate — but, the way that I feel about my utter physical dependency on others… we could say that I hate it. Do I let that take over my life and who I am? No. Mainly, because I am loved. And being loved, being truly loved and knowing it, is a kind of freedom. I, who I am as a person, body, mind, heart, and soul, does not need to be chained by my chains. We all have limitations, all unique, some more obvious than others, some more minute-by-minute limiting than others. But, there is no limit to love. Real love.
It may very well be impossible for you to do some particular thing. It was impossible for Franklin Roosevelt to walk unaided. It’s impossible for me to walk at all — it’s also impossible for me to scratch my head, wipe my bottom, feed myself, etc.. However — and this is very big and important, way beyond wishful thinking, justifications, or petty comforts — I am not limited in becoming who I am created to be. I may not get my way. But, if I am willing and cooperative, then all of who I am (especially including my limitations) will result in the accomplishment of Divine Will. God’s way is above my way.
No matter what your limitations, there are no limitations placed upon your ability to be fulfilled in who you are. A hero, a martyr, a warrior, a mystic, a sage, a saint — all are within the possibilities of every human person. Should somebody not even be able to utter a word or express any kind of personal communication, he or she still has the ability to teach. God, who created each and every one of us, has given each and every one of us the particular abilities needed to reach our full potentials and to become great in God’s sight. We will not all become President of the United States or any other kind of a world recognized leader — but everybody has the ability to lead. By following God’s love, we can not only become who we are destined to be, but we can also lead others to their destinies. The very fact that we are simple, that we are small, the very fact that we are seen as foolish to many, the very fact that we are pitifully weak — that is how we become able. It is how Jesus saved the world — just look at a crucifix.
It is through the human wounds that we can see the Divine.
Unpublished work © 2014 Christina Chase