Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff, is a true American original, only wearing identical white suits. From a personal branding perspective as a writer, it’s brilliant – he’s trademarked his image as entirely distinctive, where no matter if you see him on television or in the grocery store, you immediately know it’s him simply by seeing his tall, lanky silhouette decked in that wild white suit.
I wonder, though, does Wolfe ever take off his white suit in favor of ordinary clothes? Does he ever throw on jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap, and stroll into public? And, if he does forgo the white suit, do people treat him differently, viewing him not as the American icon of Tom Wolfe, but just as a guy named Tom?
If you think about it, disability is a lot like wearing a white suit wherever we go. After all, disability is distinctive, it brands us, it tells others who we are on some level – and, yes, for some, it dictates how they treat us. Of course, there is a difference between you and me, and Tom Wolf: He can take off his white suite, but we can’t shed our disabilities.
Yet, do we really want to take off our white suits, to shed our disabilities? I suppose that it’s human nature that all of us want to simply blend into a crowd at times, escaping our identities. In fact, I was at a disability conference several weeks ago, and while I just wanted to anonymously blend into the hotel bar one evening and relax, I couldn’t escape many folks recognizing me from my public roles – I can’t shake any of my white suits.
However, again, beyond naturally wishing momentary escapism, do we really want to shake off the white suits that we call disability?
Some might; but, those who are truly mindful don’t wish to shed any constructive parts of their lives, including disability. What I know is that every experience that we have contributes to our character, shaping how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we view the world around us. And, if I were to shed my white suit – my disability – I would be shedding a bit of myself in the process. Truly, if I somehow discarded my disability, removing its daily experience from my life – the highs and the lows – I wouldn’t be myself, not the same father, husband, friend, or colleague. That is, shedding my disability would be giving up some of my unique perspectives, wisdoms that I wouldn’t want to lose.
Sure, I realize that some constantly tug at the sleeves of their white suit, their disability, viewing it as a restrictive device, a painfully conspicuous item that separates them from others, one that they’d rip off and run down the street naked – screaming, hallelujah! – if they could, glad to rid it from their life altogether.
However, I’m of the flair that, like Tom Wolfe’s white suit, our disabilities are an empowered tool when viewed with optimism and positivism, a testament to the strength of our character. I’ve met many whose white suits state compassion, exhibit perseverance, and demonstrate wisdom – those who understand that wearing a white suit can be an inspired component in their lives, where having experienced the uniqueness of disability makes them even more capable as parents, spouses, friends, and colleagues.
I say that if we can’t shed our white suites – and, ultimately we can’t – then we shall wear them with pride, with our heads up, shoulders back, strutting our stuff, individually saying to the world that I am someone of perseverance, understanding, and compassion, where I not only embrace my uniqueness, but that of all others.
On second thought, I bet that Tom Wolfe never takes off his white suite – because, man, wearing a white suit sure feels good.