I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality. -Alice Paul
By Mark E. Smith
When I was born, there was no humility in disability, just the medical authority calling people like me the vegetative minority. No, I couldn’t walk, speak or crawl; but, with my toddler eyes and ears, I saw and heard it all. Dream on.
And, as I grew, no one knew what my fate would be, a prognosis based on speculative hyperbole. But, still, with ignorance, everyone all labeled me – crippled. …Yep, that was me. Yet, inside hid the person I knew I could be. And, at night, when I cried — trapped by an ignorant society — even my mother couldn’t comfort me. Dream on.
When I was seven and sent to the back of the church, I was taught children like me didn’t go to Heaven. How could a God, who I came from, not let me with a disability into his kingdom? It wasn’t some Father’s place to say we aren’t anointed by the Lord based on physicality, when inside me, I knew I was appointed, worthy of spirituality. Dream on.
Mainstream education brought taunts and stares – kids who didn’t know better, teachers who didn’t care. I could read but I couldn’t write, so I bought a thrift-store typewriter and clicked the keys, teaching myself to type one night. And the words that flowed were bold and grew, and I knew I had something to say to the world – even at eight years old. That’s right. Dream on.
My family fell apart, ignorance toward my condition stung at my heart, and back in those days, a step into a store meant I could get in, and they had the right to refuse me service, a hypocrisy to no win. America the beautiful, the bold and the brave; but, my wheels of steel made everyone my master, gave me little more than the rights of slave. A country founded from oppression, surviving wars and the Depression, and I still I faced daily oppression? Stigmas did follow me, and I felt this: Where was truth in equality? Dream on.
But, for me segregation didn’t stop my education, and I wouldn’t give up my mind’s elevation. Heart strings tatter, but a spirit that wouldn’t shatter, I’d just move on; different day, same song. Things went wrong, but I’d move on. Dream on.
I remember at the prom when she wouldn’t dance with me, then going home that night, questioning my sexuality – for months it went on, the depression, a repeated song. I awoke in the hospital despite the pills taken, and it registered with me that I wasn’t a soul forsaken. I was who I was and just had to be me, why drown in self-loathing when I could swim in a sea – of acceptance. That had to be me. Dream on.
It all got easier as I went, worth the sweat and the tears that were spent – but who knows. I was always told that life goes as it goes till we grow old, and the forces that once held us down soon push us up from the ground. Our weaknesses become our strength, and those who’ve wronged us, we should thank – adversity from diversity is a character that we build, and successes that are earned create lives that are willed. Dream on.
Still, think what you will, but when I travel from the Pacific Northwest to Capitol Hill, there’s ground to be gained, equality sustained, where one nation for all is exactly where we fall – short. And, until everyone – regardless of disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion, of unity, not division –is seen as humanly proficient, not different or deficient, I will continue to question America, the bold, the beautiful, and the brave as it holds up discrimination and prejudice to save – yes, even in this so-called progressive age. Until there’s equality for all, as a nation we fall. But, as for me, I’m optimistic. I dream on.
2 thoughts on “Dream On”
I know the pain and isolation of disability, and with it the lack of access to friends, peers, and adults who could be mentors. We have survived a system that Denys us the most basic of humanity. And Doctors who knew nothing of disability and who still have little education about us, I write my letters to my Dr.s because he has no ides at all what he is doing. I know the pain and loos of friends who have died from the lack of medical care and the literal “Your not good enough to get good care!” I know also the hope for those coming behind us and the fear that all the struggles we have all known will not be enough. Lets put a prayer and hopes on the wind for change and hope for our people…Thanks!
Dear Mark, I read your book [Growing Up Handicapped] years ago after I stumbled across it in a used book store. I have never forgotten you or your book. I have two sons who are severely disabled from a rare disorder, yet both boys are very bright, maintain straight A’s in school, and both love to write. They cannot speak but can communicate beautifully using a keyboard or assistance devices. Your words could very well be their words, and their words yours. This is a powerful essay. Through the eyes of my sons I have seen the world in different perspectives, both for good and bad. Thank-you for your contribution to my life, yours is a life filled with purpose, you are an encouragement and I am blessed to have crossed your path – as I am certain many, many others would say the same.