I do not mean to be graphic, but I remember the fine sunny Monday morning when I headed to college after an early morning flight. Little did I know that a usual bus ride would break my bones into several pieces and my brow in two not-so-beautiful halves after a nasty accident. What followed were three months of dreading to go the restroom without help (and hesitating to ask for it after a point) and crawling to reach my not-so-disabled friendly college. It was at this point that I realized that no matter how much “empathy” or “sympathy” we may have for the differently abled people, unless a personal experience hits and hits hard, the understanding of what disability actually remains, well, incomplete.
In the third semester of my intellectually rewarding but exhausting gender studies postgraduate course, the last thing I wanted to do was wait another year for my degree to get over and have to repeat the semester. I was putting in a lot of effort, and call it impatient, but I was certain that I wanted to get out of the course as soon as possible to simply absorb what I had learned all the while. The road accident in broad daylight on a Monday morning as I headed to attend a lecture came as shock, and a plumply rude shock, at that.
As emotionally and physically devastating the experience was, it gave me several learnings that I doubt I’d otherwise have gotten in the very first quarter of my life. It was both a quarter-life crisis and a quarter-life blessing.
The moment I gained consciousness after experiencing a severe blow on my brow, I painfully and frustratingly cried “why me?”. I wasn’t drinking and driving, I wasn’t crossing the road with the headphones on, I wasn’t clicking a selfie on a mountain top, I wasn’t trekking at undulated terrains, and even my karma has been largely sorted in my 25 years of boring life where I was largely an obedient student, daughter, and a non-bully. And this self-pity and lamenting went on for two weeks until I decided that I couldn’t let this nasty accident get to me, and I will attend my lectures no matter what. I will do my assignments on time, I will meditate twice a day for my sanity, no matter how much my anxiety stops me and most importantly — I will not let my difficulties decide my fate.
During the first two weeks after my accident, I struggled to go get myself even a glass of water. Living with just one flatmate who had her own life and was incapable of looking after me, I moved to my college hostel where I got to live amongst a lot of people and each of them, in their own little way, helped me. Some got me fruits, some got me water, some got me food and some helped me walk to the toilet when I was incapable of doing that myself. Nobody went out of their way to “be there” for me or be at my constant beck and call, but somebody was always there. And I felt a sense of gratitude for each of them, collectively. My college and batch mates making time to check on me even on busy days and in between grueling coursework reminded me that I’d be taken care of, if not by one soulmate or best friend, but by the many friends and acquaintances I’d made over the course of one and a half years. I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude for people who helped me get through the grueling semester.
Yes. I realized what real friendship was. While not all of my friends could be “physically” there for me, each message, each call, each word of motivation instilled the spirit of fighting the odds. The ones who could take time out and be there for me physically were obviously valuable, but I also learned to value the ones who were far away because of the tyranny of distance, but gave the much needed emotional support.
They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. This couldn’t get truer for me during the time I was unable to walk by myself. I could not run errands all the time, no longer did I pursue my “passion” to clean the house at all times or sweat it out and make my way to washboard abs but I decided to work hard with what I had. I rewired myself and began focussing on my priorities at the time, at that exact moment. I recalled what my psychology professor had advised me to do at the time. She recommended me “make a list of assignments to be turned in this semester, and keep finishing them, one by one, irrespective of the deadline.” She reminded me how precious the feeling of being diligent and punctual was. Working little by little, trying to get my life in order when my body was recovering was encouraging and eased my way to recovery.
My experience with a disability made me realize the true value of “help,” of being there for somebody and also of the importance of small acts of kindness. This is when I headed out to volunteer to teach underprivileged children in Nepal. I know the four weeks that I spent there did not alter their lives but I knew I made a positive contribution, although small. I taught a few how to read better, I came up with games for them to enjoy, I redecorated the center and sourced stationary and art supplies for all of them. I even managed to get a few friends on board to sponsor new clothes and shoes for the kids. Yes, it wasn’t a huge deal but it was the beginning of a lifetime commitment to volunteer for a cause once, every year.
“A lot of things are inherent in life — change, birth, death, aging, illness, accidents, calamities, and losses of all kinds — but these events don’t have to be the cause of ongoing suffering. Yes, these events cause grief and sadness, but grief and sadness pass, like everything else, and are replaced with other experiences. The ego, however, clings to negative thoughts and feelings and, as a result, magnifies, intensifies, and sustains those emotions while the ego overlooks the subtle feelings of joy, gratitude, excitement, adventure, love, and peace that come from Essence. If we dwelt on these positive states as much as we generally dwell on our negative thoughts and painful emotions, our lives would be transformed.”― Gina Lake, What about Now?: Reminders for Being in the Moment
This little paragraph by Gina Lake from her book, What about Now?: Reminders for Being in the Moment, sums up what getting out of the “victim” mindset actually translates into.
The biggest giveaway of the entire experience was understanding what disability actually is. While I wouldn’t claim an inside out, thorough, and deep understanding of it, experiencing it first-hand was truly a transformational experience. I realized that if the world, our everyday world like malls, stations, vehicles, homes, restaurants, among others, the understanding of “disability” would be very different. Frances Ryan, in one of her seminal articles, writes about it’s not a wheelchair that makes one disabled, but the absence of building ramps that makes one disabled.
The whole experience taught me how pain shouldn’t always be seen as a catastrophe and how it potentially leads to growth, achievement and also vision.
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