By Gloria Partida
The concept of human universal fears is beautifully demonstrated in our dreams. Across all boundaries the fear of falling, not being able to run, and public humiliation have manifested in our disengaged brains. What is the social fuel that drives these terrors in our sleep? It is lack of control. Nothing sends us into palm sweating, nail biting mode faster than the inability to control our personal space. For most of my adult life I have been blessed with the opportunity to work through knowing the difference between accepting the things I can’t change and changing the things I can. When I was twenty one my son was diagnosed with spastic quadraplegic.
Not knowing what to expect, knocking down barriers and trying to move forward with a 150 pound motorized wheelchair, trying to get though a supermarket trip avoiding direct stares and small children pointing? See falling, inability to run and public humiliation above. Every parent of a child with a disability will tell you there are no heroics. You do what has to be done. You take every child’s stare and turn it into a teachable moment. You speak at every parent meeting. You advocate, advocate, advocate. You change the things you can. I have never gotten good at accepting the things I can’t.
I’d like to say it has made me a person of impeccable character but I can’t. I can, however, tell you the moment that made the navigation easier. Shortly after an ugly incident in a sandbox when a child grabbed a toy from my son and began chanting “ you can’t walk” and I shamefully rained a mother’s vengeance on a four year old, I saw a Jane Goodall documentary. In the documentary a group of apes were exposed to polio. Some of the apes became unable to move their limbs. The unaffected apes charged the affected ones screaming and pummeling them. The reason given has escaped me and really I understood as well as Dr. Goodall that our ancient DNA is fearful of strangeness. It is fearful of what we can’t control and of what may somehow transfer weakness or the unknown to us.
When my older son came out as gay and the uncertain future, moving through barriers and laser stares resurfaced I was ready. Primate brain, primate brain; this is my mantra. This helps me find my empathy in the sandbox of bigotry. It helps me move through the molasses of progress when gender neutral bathrooms are discussed at nauseam when job creation is used as a euphemism for the establishment of fascist separatism. It mobilizes me to advocate, advocate, advocate. Importantly it mobilizes me from a place of empathy. It also mobilizes me from a place of knowing that we must fight to hold on to eons of evolution. That when we let go we dissolve to screaming pummeling apes.
Gloria Partida is co-chair of the Davis Phoenix Coalition