Pride as a practice. Pride as a process. Pride as progress, not perfection.
I am thirteen years old. My walk is the best it has ever been. A girl on the school bus, just asked me if I sprained my ankle. I replied "No. I have Cerebral Palsy". She didn't believe me. She thought I was too "normal".
I am thirteen years old, hiding in a closet, crying. My body is curled. My back is bent from the weight of pain. I want to die. Hot, hate - filled tears flood my bright red cheeks. My forehead hurts from the pressure of raging sadness. I am crazed by the fact that I will walk differently for the rest of my life, I will be crippled for the rest of my life, I will always be viewed as less than for the rest of my life. My soul feels trapped. It's not fair.
I am sixteen years old. I am sitting at my desk looking at a magazine ad that reads do something powerful. I begin to think about how disabled people are portrayed in the media. I get angry. I begin to realize that the problem in my life, isn't my body, rather, the problem is how society views and defines my body. I vow then and there to work for disability rights; I vow then and there, to never again let myself be silenced by a lie.
I am eighteen years old. I am reading a speech on social justice and disability at my high school. It is the annual Martin Luther King celebration. I am terrified, but I speak,. A couple months later, I will go onto win a diversity award for that speech; a couple months later , I will go onto win a scholarship for that speech. Most importantly, however, a couple of weeks later, I will overhear a classmate saying how much he hated my speech. "No one would care about her disability, if she didn't talk about it." His words would shake me to the core: was I wrong to speak out about social justice? Is discrimination my fault? His words would make me realize that my feelings about my own disability had little to nothing to do with the need for justice in the world. My feelings and fear surrounding advocacy, would not disappear, but they would lose significance.
I am twenty five years old. I decide to go visit an old physical therapist. As per usual, she wants to watch me walk. She remarks on how well I am doing. She inquires about whether or not I will get a surgery that will correct my walk. For the first time in my life, I realize that I am not obsessed with erasing my limp; for the first time in my life, I realize that I am perfectly fine with walking imperfectly for the rest of my life; for the first time in my life, I don't view my body as a mistake that needs to be fixed. It's just my body, and it's damn beautiful and it deserves a space/place in society. For the first time in my life, I feel a huge weight lift off my soldiers. I cry tears of happiness and gratitude. My intellectual philosophy of pride and advocacy has finally been integrated into my body. I am no longer a diagnosis. I am a part of a diverse culture and community of people. I am human. I am crip. I am Ava.
It is thanksgiving 2010. I am watching old home videos with my family. I watch eight year old Ava walk across the screen, then I watch thirteen year old Ava walk across the screen. Something deep down inside of my body winces. I can't help but think that my walk looks so ugly on screen. I begin to doubt my desirability. I begin to wonder if my new crush will ever reciprocate the developing feelings I have for him. "How can he, when I walk like that?" I have forgotten about my past romantic relationships and all of the people who have had crushes on me. I shrink once again to nothing more than a limping diagnosis.
Can the practice of pride shrink or stretch with age, just like the skin on my body? Or if shame is wrinkles of my skin, can forgiveness be the syringe, which holds pride, the chemical that erases the wrinkles?
As semi - illustrated by the 'snapshots' above, I have been thinking about pride, the process by which one gains pride, and if the concept of forgiveness as a catalyst for for pride. My thoughts on these topics have been largely inspired by the following Nelson Mandela quote:
"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner. "
Thus, from this quote I began to think that the ability to forgive can lead to the ability to achieve a radical freedom (or pride). For the purposes of this blog, then, one can conceptualize the word "enemy" as ( any combination or form of), oppression, discrimination, erasure of identity, and internalized oppression. If we substitute a form of oppression for the word "enemy" in Mandela's quote, it is not a far stretch to conclude that the practice of pride, then, can become as much about forgiving others (and oneself) for oppression as it can be about radically redefining the narrative surrounding one's self concept.
Thus, we are led to question whether or not, one can sustain an active and stable practice (or sense) of pride that has nothing to do with forgiveness? Can the traditional ingredients of protest prove to be too reactionary at times? If so, how can the concept of forgiveness help stabilize the concept of pride?
I am not suggesting that applying forgiveness in this way would be easy, rational, or even the right way to deal with oppression, I am merely discussing it as an option to help cultivate pride. I think it could look something like this:
A friend tells me that she thinks bisexuality doesn't exist, I am just closeted.
I acknowledge the harmful narrative, hold it, and place it somewhere on my body (figuratively of course) to symbolize acceptance and partnership with all things in my environment. Placing the h narrative on my body, could be seen as akin to accepting and forgiving the harmful effects of nature. For example, I can get a pretty bad sun burn in the summer, but I don't get angry at the sun. I just accept the effects of its strong UV rays on my fair skim, and learn to put on sun screen. I am not saying that wearing sunscreen will stop the sun from ever burning my skin, the sun will still exist and be harmful at times. However, My application of sunscreen doesn't have as much to do with my relationship with the sun, as it does with my relationship with myself. Similarly, my learning how to forgive oppression has to do primarily with my relationship with myself, and my concept of identity, and not with the oppression itself. If my body is big enough, if it is strong enough to hold many of the false narratives I have grown up with, then my body is big enough and strong enough to hold forgiveness for these narratives also.
Please, don't misunderstand, this is not a post about insecurities or self - esteem. This is a post about the cultivation of a continuous sense of pride in the face of various types of oppression. Furthermore, let me reiterate, I am not saying that forgiving oppression is the only way to achieve a lasting sense of pride, I am merely posing the question of the relationship of the practice of pride to the practice of forgiveness. Should forgiveness and pride be practiced together?
I am thirteen years old. My walk is the best it has ever been. A girl on the school bus, just asked me if I sprained my ankle. I replied "No. I have Cerebral Palsy". She didn't believe me. She thought I was too "normal". I went home and looked in the mirror, I examined the beginning of curves in my chest and hips. Then, I looked at the curves in my foot. I take the narrative she shared, and I forgive it, and in forgiving it, I also forgive my classmate. I forgive it by visualizing the narrative, split in two, and place one half on each hip. It adds curve to my figure; it's beautiful; it's beautiful because of the freedom it produces, I do not have to hold the reponsibility of rebelling agaisnt the narrative nor do I run the risk of internalizing it. It becomes like a freckle; I coexist with it, and in doing so, I continue my journey towards pride.
It always seems impossible, until its done.
- Nelson Mandela