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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The Tension Between The Goodness Of Bodies, And The Reality Of Disability

It is the goodness of bodies that an extremism of disability-worship denies, by asserting that there is something essential to me in the experience of my disability. This error explains why some people make themselves disabled, in some cases, maiming themselves for the purpose of receiving pity, attention, or any number of other reasons. We have to reject this kind of thinking. God has promised to restore that which has been broken, both in ourselves, and in this creation He made. At the risk of massive understatement, we cannot enjoy God's restoration of all things if we deny that there is anything that needs to be restored.

There is an example of this pernicious type of thinking in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called, "Loud As a Whisper". Generally speaking, it is a great episode, filled with many examples showing the goodness of people with disabilities, and the goodness that can be found in overcoming those disabilities. The Enterprise is assigned to transport a mediator to a warring planet. When they arrive on the mediator's planet, they realize that he is deaf. Riva the mediator uses a unique form of communication called a "chorus". Its individual members are able to interpret Riva's thoughts and speak them. When the Enterprise crew questions Riva about his deafness, he says, "Born, and hope to die." Very subtly, the writers have communicated the idea that deafness is intrinsic to Riva's identity as a person. I don't know what it would be like to live without my disability, but it is a limitation. Even as I give thanks for the unique perspective that my disability affords me, and even for the difficulty I am invited to overcome, it is beyond reason to suggest that a lack of ability to do something is intrinsic, or even virtuous.

Another side plot within this episode involves Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge. As you may know, La Forge is blind. He stopped in to Sickbay, reporting to the new doctor aboard the Enterprise, Dr. Pulaski. Pulaski has never met La Forge in person, but has heard of his case, and is understandably curious about his prosthetic, the VISOR. She tells La Forge that she may be able to restore his optic nerve, thus curing his blindness. There is a risk that she could fail, in which case he would lose all of his sight, including the ability to use the VISOR. La Forge hesitates, and this is a mystery to Pulaski. On the one hand, if Geordi is hesitating because of the risk of the surgery, this is legitimate. However, if he is hesitating because being cured of his blindness will eliminate the special experiences that experiencing his disability have created, then he is surrendering to the idea that disability is desirable or proper, and intrinsic to the human experience.

There is a fine line between thankfulness in spite of difficulties, and believing that defects are integral to our identity as individuals. This distinction is the difference between accepting suffering, and the celebrating of it for its own sake.

On a more personal note, I apologize for my vast array of sports analogies and references. Surely I could describe the goodness of bodies in other ways! Yet by God's grace, I am what I am, and if you've borne up thus far, perhaps you can make it the rest of the way.

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