A Defense of Life

BY ANNA MILLER

This semester, I began an internship at the Cerebral Palsy Center (CPC) in Green Bay. I spend one full day a week at the CPC, splitting my time between the daycare and adult care programs. In the morning I play peek-a-boo with the Bay Area’s cutest toddlers and in the afternoon I do the Macarena with some of the people I cherish the most.

Though I greatly enjoy my diapered, slobbering, one-year-old bosses, it is in the adult program that I have had the most valuable and challenging experiences. The hours spent with these clients have been heart-changing. I am never the same person who walked into their room as when I walk out.

As I reach forward to push the door open, I want to be anywhere but there. I’m on a chubby-baby-cheek high and the air in there is stiff. Fluorescent lights beam down on everything I never want to deal with. I don’t want to see bodies stuck in wheelchairs when I’m standing on two legs. I don’t want to see slack-jawed faces staring at me when I’m thinking about my upcoming paper on Marx. And I don’t want to introduce myself to someone who has met me ten times before, because, would the same situation happen to me, I would be more prone to finger flipping than hand shaking.

The painful obviousness of my able-bodied and intellectual privilege almost drowns me before I can fully enter the room. All at once, I am sad, guilty, angry and, most of all, scared. Scared because there is no reason why she is in a wheelchair and I am standing over her, making sure all the oatmeal gets in her mouth. I am not chosen, I am not special, I did nothing to deserve a life of thoughtless privilege.

Disability is illogical. Science gives you facts and humanities gives you context but there is no satisfying answer to the question—why her and not me?

I look into the eyes of a girl my age, my complexion, with a name eerily similar to my own. In this moment the idea that, “God only gives you what you can handle” and “special humans are created to teach you a lesson” all seem idiotic. She doesn’t exist because I’m going down a bad path and her simple nature will remind me of the beauty in small things. Her existence is not reliant on my selfish need to “grow” and “evolve.”

But if I can’t find answers through intellect or fruitless God-seeking, what is there to be known about these people?

I don’t know much, but I know one thing. These individuals are so loved. Caretakers pack lunches with the right kind of yogurt and dress them in the sweaters that make them most comfortable and attach notes to their wheelchairs that say, “Emily will be picked up by her mother, she will not take the bus home today.” Workers at the CPC know their clients by name, the muffled sounds they make when they need water, and the squeals of excitement that mean they’re happy. I’ve watched countless CPC workers cheer on clients like they are encouraging their own children. And I’ve felt the distinct joy of a client’s face lighting up as she sees me walk into the room. Love blooms from life, including the complicated and beautiful lives of the clients.

At the CPC, life is valued. Life thrives. Life breathes into every room, lifting away remorse and confusion. Life is here and it matters.

So I enter the room.

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