The first participant I met at my Yoga/Writing course the other day, was a woman in a wheelchair. I wasn’t sure what Mary was capable of physically, but I knew that even if all she could do was some deep breathing, she’d benefit from the session. What I didn’t realize was how much Mary would teach me.
Mary has severe cerebral palsy, making all but the simplest movements very difficult. She had a support worker with her to help with her needs and to act as a scribe. Even with my experiences teaching in special schools years ago, I still had misconceptions about what Mary would be able to feel and interpret in her body.
I set an exercise where we physically embodied an emotion, then wrote about the sensations we’d experienced. As the rest of the group scribbled furiously in their notebooks, Mary’s voice echoed in the background faster than her scribe could keep up.
As part of the activity students read their work aloud. Not knowing what to expect, but wanting to include her, I asked Mary to share her paragraph on fear.
What she had written blew us all away. She knew, better than any of us, how the muscles in her legs contracted ready to run, how her breath grew high and tight, how a sour taste rose in her throat and sat at the back of her tongue like a dead thing.
How wrong I had been! I’d assumed that because Mary was limited physically, that she would also have limited perceptions of her body. The opposite was true. When you need to consider every minute movement needed, which muscles to engage, even to just take a sip of a drink, you know your body intimately.
Mary has a fierce intellect, a joyful heart and a never-say-die attitude that inspired us all. But more than that she is a passionate and talented writer I would have overlooked, simply because I stupidly made assumptions about what she was capable of based only on the way she looked.
Mary has forgiven me. As she wrote to me later, “The opportunity to challenge people’s misconceptions in a positive and supportive way is what I live for.”
Let Mary inspire you – despite all her challenges she’s self-published a memoir and is working on her next book!
No excuses now, are there?