My Cerebral Palsy and I Cannot Be Beat
Sarah Kim, Barnard student
Her entire body was tensioned: mouth chewing, left hand waving in the sky, feet stepping in the air and stomach contracting. Every move of the body was to help her right hand swing upon the keyboard and drop on the exact keys. Sometimes when she tried to press a key with her thumb, other fingers would accidentally fell on other keys. Then she had to find the “delete” key and punch it a couple times. “Don’t worry about correcting it.” I was getting impatient and also trying to be considerate when I watched Sarah struggling to type out answers to my interview questions on the laptop. It was a workout for her, a college freshman with cerebral palsy. But she insisted on typing out the complete and correct sentences, including the commas. I watched and I realized, to help her was to wait and allow her to try. So, I watched, for an hour. Her typing reminded me of ballet. Both ballerina and Sarah had to control every single muscle to perform a small movement, such as a perfect ronds de jambe or typing out a precise word. My favorite was to see her press the “space” key. She made full use of every inch on the surface of the “space” key and made it a stage for beauty and a runway for launching. She would move the entire right hand to the very left of the keyboard, wave to the right with right thumb sliding on the entire space key and lift hand up high in the sky like a victory sign.
“Although sometimes my cerebral palsy makes things difficult, it makes me appreciate my successes even more,” she told me with a smile. The most beautiful smiles were the ones grew out of tears. Sarah did not have an easy childhood as she described in the poem:
Surrounded by people who
Point fingers and laugh at them,
As if they were freaks
In a circus show,
And do not feel pain
Because they are not considered as human.
Kids used to say we were scientific experiments
That went all wrong,
A substrate in solute,
The one percent error.
The words were hurtful. I teared up and felt sympathy for her. She smiled again, and said, “Continue…to read.”
We’re not the only ones who grew up this way.
To this day,
Kids are still feeling insecure,
In this land of freedom.
They aren’t free to be themselves
So they wear masks every day,
Or try to mask their differences.
They are like seeds
Trying to flourish in unhealthy soils.
They are meant to flourish into beautiful creations
But instead they struggle to survive.
Being in school is like being in a survival show.
The normal kids constantly prey on the weird ones,
Their words are like weapons and poison.
It was shocking to see the world through her words. When I was sympathetic towards her, she felt empathetic for us. We are no different except that her disability may be more visible than others. She smiled, once more, and showed me the next part.
But I want to stand up for myself
And for others who are too afraid to speak up.
I want to tell them to leave the past behind,
Because we are much better than those
Who try to define us as losers.
They’ll never understand
How we’ll go from hurting to healing.
How we could go from a zero to hero.
Let us honor ourselves
As the graduating class of
“We made it.”
I smiled and told her, “Yes, you made it.” Sarah nodded, “Life is too short to have so much negativity. I like to see my cerebral palsy as a blessing.”
“Is cerebral palsy a blessing itself or did you make it a blessing?” She thought about it quickly but slowly typed out her answer:
“CP is a blessing not b/c of its attributes, but rather b/c of the experiences I encounter b/c of it. It motivated me to achieve something larger than life.”
“What is larger than life?”
She giggled, leaned back and pointed at me with her fist, “You ask tough questions.” Then she turned to my laptop and wrote:
“For many people, they might believe life is about being prosperous and successful in their own individual way. But when I say ‘larger than life,’ I mean being out of that comfort zone and achieving things that not only benefit you but also those around you. People tend to set limits on what they can do, whether it be based on their gender, disabilities, talents, etc. but for me, I like to believe there’s no limitations on what I can or cannot do. I wish to positively impact the world and use my disability as a medium to give back to others, whether it be by my story or the obstacles I had to overcome.”
She was right about the comfort zone. People draw a circle around them and say, “I will only take care of myself.” Then they draw an even smaller circle and call that the limits of their ability. In that tiny circle, we comfortably achieved our goals and feel successful. Through Sarah, I also saw the invisible circles, invisible disabilities and invisible masks.
When I walked her wheelchair to the elevator, there was a ramp where I had to pull her wheelchair to stop it from falling down. I never realized how steep the ramp was and I wondered how Sarah managed to go around by herself. Then I remembered something she said to me earlier, “My cerebral palsy and I cannot be beat.”#
Julia Qian is a student at Barnard College and a reporter for Education Update. This interview is with a fellow Barnard student.