We are all disabled
Like many others I watched the Para-Olympics this year and was hugely impressed by the ability, courage and tenacity of the athletes. Despite overwhelming problems caused sometimes by birth defects or by a trauma during their life, the athletes had made something against all odds, sometimes doing better than they would have done had they been able-bodied. They can never get away from their impairment. It will always be with them, but in no way was it dictating to them who they were and undermining their ability to live and achieve.
At the same time as I was watching the Games, something happened to remind me of a traumatic childhood incident. I was invited to help at something and my immediate response was one of dread like a great lump of stone in my stomach. I felt slightly sick and depressed as well. Suddenly, within this dark reaction, a window of understanding opened up and I saw that when I had experienced this feeling in the past – and in my twenties it was often with me – I had blamed myself for not being strong enough to cope, weak, a failure. Now I realised that just like a physical disability, this memory of past hurt is part of who I am. My emotional reaction was a strong and true one, a recognition deep inside me of what happens when life goes wrong or is wrong: a drawing back from the wrongness, which is a sign of health, not dis-ease. The experience will always be with me, although I barely think of it nowadays. It does not dictate in any way who I am. Rather it has helped make me who I am for a lot of good stuff has been born from it.
As if to emphasize that I was on the right track a few days later someone spoke to me of the echoes of their own childhood trauma coming up out of the blue to affect them. Again there was a deep shock felt emotionally and physically, a sense of surprise that this incident long past and seemingly worked through could suddenly take them unawares and propel them into dismay; and then, finally, a working through to a place of steadiness again. Despite our reaction, in exchanging notes both of could see how far we had come over the years.
So where is God’s healing in all this? I am healed; so is my friend; so are those disabled athletes who so impressed us at the Para-Olympics. We are not cured, we are healed. Healing is about wholeness, about being reconciled to God, our friends and families, our histories and ourselves. It is about forgiving and knowing you are forgiven. God’s love has helped me come to terms over the years with what happened, but more than that his presence has allowed me to make use of the experience on behalf of others. Yes, every now and again the old feeling will suddenly wind me, but recognising it and standing back from it, I can now say –No, Alison, you are not weak or a failure. You are slightly disabled. All human beings are disabled in one way or another. Live with it and make something of it.