Bully Pulpit: Connective Current

This is NEW MOBILITY’s 200th issue, and I have a confession to make. When I assumed the responsibilities of editor after Barry Corbet retired in late 2000, I wondered how long I would be able to restrict my attention to writing and editing stories with only a disability focus. Up until that time, I had written fiction and nonfiction on wide-ranging topics, including disability, and I liked the freedom of following my muse’s leadings. Would I grow tired of a steady diet of disability?

Now I know the answer. Focusing on the topic of disability is like tracking a current in the ocean. It leads from one ocean to the next, circles the globe, changes from season to season, and evolves over decades. There is no end to interesting topics, people, communities, challenges, issues, triumphs and defeats. But one thing is constant: Beneath the current is a driving force that circulates through all of us.

I’d like to give that force a name, but labeling it would oversimplify it. I can, however, cite some examples of it. In this issue of NM, as in all issues, examples abound. Take Bob Samuels’ excerpt — “I’m the Freak” — taken from his autobiographical book, Blue Water, White Water. His narrative represents a moment that we all know well — an instant when the full realization of our disability all but crushes us. Fortunately, it doesn’t end there. For most of us, this realization signals the beginning of a life of adapting to daily challenges — and the ultimate creation of a transformed identity that both embraces and transcends our disability.

Allen Rucker’s “Two-Story House” also starts with a profound change that leads to an identity crisis, then depicts what can happen when a critical life relationship is affected. Disability has a way of throwing up barriers that separate us from the people we love. But there is always a way to surmount the barrier, and often the newly forged connection evolves into a stronger, deeper, lasting relationship.

Disability not only affects our personal identities and closest relationships, it also weighs us down with seeming limitations. We are sometimes tricked into obsessing about what we cannot do, even to the point of considering giving up. But there is a latent resiliency in the human make-up that sets us apart from other animals. You can see this clearly in climber Steve Muse’s cover story, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” a perfect example of how we can regain what we thought was lost forever.

Finally, there is the universal force that connects us with other disabled people from cultures all over the globe. Leroy Moore Jr., in Roxanne Furlong’s “Krip Hop,” seeks out the resilient spirit that comes to life in the making of music — wherever it takes him. In one instance it leads him to the Republic of Congo and a remarkable group of homeless people with disabilities. In the heart of Africa this group of polio survivors of all ages, Staff Benda Bilili, creates their unique musical hybrid. Their handmade instruments and harmonizing voices embody the connective current — and the resiliency — that runs through us all.

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