Every now and then there comes along a song that touches you deeply and speaks to your soul and sends you to tears. When I came across the theme song to ‘The Greatest Showman’, my body had tingles from head to toe! Kaela Settle sings ‘THIS IS ME’ at the Green Light Presentation (see link below) before the show was to be approved. I could tell from the emotional performance this song was as significant to her as it was to me as a woman growing up with Cerebral Palsy. This song resonates with me in a deep and personal way; reminding me of the journey I have travelled and still travel today!
I remember as a little girl mum would take me to various ‘healers’ and ‘psycho-surgeons’. She was in search for a cure for Cerebral Palsy but as a young girl this left me traumatise and feeling like a burden; that I had to be ‘fixed’ in order to be acceptable to my parents and to the world. We also travelled as far as San Francisco, California in 1980 because mum heard of the newest hope for a cure at the Palo Alto Clinic. Now, please I want you to know that I love my parents. They did their best with all they knew at the time. What parents would not try to improve the quality of life for their children?
And then later when I became a Christian, the majority response to my Cerebral Palsy I received from the Christian Community was that I had to be ‘healed’ and again ‘fixed’. Several strangers off the street ‘felt’ God say to them they should approach me and ask if they could pray for me. Well meaning pastors also wanted me out of my wheelchair when all I asked was healing for the arthritic pain I had that day! So then I began to hide my pain, my weaknesses and my shame for not being perfect. I need to clarify that I do believe in the power of God to heal. We are told we can ask for healing in the Bible (James 5:14-15). But we need to approach this holistically, not only so that they are healed dramatically from their disability and therefore all will be good from then on.
Also as a young fifteen year old my desire to leave The Spastic Centre and mainstream into my local high school was met with disapproval. I wanted to experience the real world; out there. But I was only confronted with people who kept giving me reasons why this was not a good idea. Doctors told me that mainstreaming would deteriorate my physical well being as I would not have access to therapy. Teachers (one in particular) told me that I was not intelligent enough to do the HSC. Another teacher told me if I did leave The Spastic Centre, it would be my fault if it should close down. Two years later I had to deal with the guilt when it did finally close down! The principle at the local high school said I would be accepted into Year 11 the following year but as far as providing accessibility around the school, I was on my own! (This was pre Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 so the school got away with this one). Even my parents, with all good intentions said it would be better to not ‘lose the security’ of The Spastic Centre. And when I was accepted into my local high school my dad told me not to buy my uniform until I was sure I was going to ‘make it’. (So, the next day I went with mum and bought my uniform!) The social worker from The Spastic Centre and my two- year-old relationship with Jesus Christ seemed like my only allies at the time.
Even today when I interact with my world there are still subtle messages I receive everyday telling me ‘I do not belong’, that I am a financial, physical and more significantly an emotional burden. If some people had to confront my disability and my needs then they would have to confront their own weaknesses and limitations; and that’s not an acceptable thing in our society. Just today I visited my petrol station. I was not able to enter their shop as the only ramp they had was blocked by the gas cylinders they placed there. Athena then had to put on her ‘self-advocacy’ hat and, in a polite way, suggest a small ramp to be placed so I could access it on my own, when I wanted. One man saw my dilemma and asked if there was anything he could get me. That was a kind offer but what about when he is not there? When no one’s around?? What then? But there are days when Athena just doesn’t want to put on that hat! It is a tiresome journey sometimes and some days I just want a society that is accessible both physically and attitudinally. I don’t want to be forever fighting for equal rights. I just want to be welcomed and accepted as me because THIS IS ME!
“The Greatest Showman” is the story of a group of people that our society has not accepted and welcomed into our communities. The bearded lady, the tall man, the short stature man, the black man and the man who was brought up in poor circumstances. They are looked upon as unworthy, weak, different. They are ‘freaks and spooks’ looking for love and acceptance; looking for a family which in the end R.T. Barnum manages to create. A person who he himself rose from nothing to creating a show that showcased the difference of these people as a ‘celebration of humanity’.
I don’t care what walk of life you come from, we all carry our scars, our pain and our shame. We have been taught to hide all this because we believe we won’t be loved and accepted. For you it may not be a physical disability, it could be that you are choosing to hide from others because of you live with depression? Anxiety? Or an eating disorder? Or maybe you are choosing to stay in the closet because you believe you will be hated and judged if you came out as a member of LGBTQI community? What ever it is we believe it is better to hide than to take a risk of rejection than to stand out in the crowd.
“The Greatest Showman” is the story of all of us, that is why I believe it is such a universal movie. We all have broken parts we carry. But it is through these broken parts that turn us into ‘warriors’. There came a day when I decided to not go to any more healers. I took a risk to say I am ok with how I am and THIS IS ME and its OK. And fighting for my place in my local high school was a hard battle but it was because of the bruises, I learnt to be brave and that is what turned me into a warrior. That is what turns us all into warriors; when we risk everything to stand out in the crowd.
How are you going to respond to the sharp words that cut at your soul; that tell you you must hide because you are different? What will you choose? Will you allow them to drown you or will you bring on a flood of courage and drown them all out and not be scared to be seen. Will you stand tall and say THIS IS ME??