Nancy Mairs’ “On Being a Cripple” and her experiences with MS reminded me a lot of my grandfather who was born with cerebral palsy. When he was born, the doctors told his parents that he would not live two weeks – he just turned 93 two months ago.
Although he has always had to walk with a cane (and a walker later in life), it never stopped him from living a fulfilling life. He received two bachelors degrees and a masters. He was married and raised two children. He held down a very successful career at JP Morgan in NYC, which included a daily commute via train. Although this was never easy for him, he made it his purpose to never live like he was “handicapped.”
Not only did he have difficulty walking, people would often stare at him because of the way he walked. He never let this get to him.
My mom often tells me stories about her and my uncle as kids getting fussy and complaining about something they wanted and couldn’t have. My grandfather would always reply to them in in the same way, “Life isn’t fair. You think you have it bad? I pass Bed-Stuy everyday and those people have it bad.” He always considered someone else’s struggles far worse than his own.
Mairs attitude towards her MS reminds me a lot of my grandfather’s attitude towards his handicap. Mairs states that MS is “simply a fact of my life […] you can’t always get what you want. Particularly, when you have MS. You can’t for example, get cured.” She continues to say that she is “not sorry to be a cripple,” and that she would take a cure, but doesn’t need one. Although physical handicaps may be a “fact” in life, they need not always control how you define your life.