At Large

The Sideward Glance, the Nervous Two-step

By Published On: July 29th, 2023

Near the end of the interview on CBS Sunday Morning, Dani Izzie put her life as a quadriplegic in clear, direct perspective: “I don’t want to go to the grocery store and have somebody randomly come up to me and say, ‘You’re so inspiring.’ Why? Because I’m at the grocery store? I want to be seen as normal. I want to be seen on the same level as everybody else. I don’t need to be inspiring.”

So many factors intersect in her statement that breaking it down offers a microscopic view of the way we’re living life these days. Dani is in a wheelchair. She is the mother of twins. She is living her best life. She doesn’t want to be singled out. She simply wants to be who she is “on the same level as everybody else.” What makes this so profound is the setting for her statement, our latter day equivalent of what the ancient Greeks dubbed the agora – the marketplace.

Observed supermarket behavior can be an interesting, intriguing and, frankly, frightening snapshot of where our culture has drifted. How our fellow shoppers maneuver their carts, the common decency shown as we wait in scattered fashion at the deli counter to raise our hands when the “Who’s next?” invitation is offered, or, reflecting on Dani’s comment, how fellow shoppers respond to the presence of folks who physically, mentally, or sociologically are different says a great deal.

Doing the disability shuffle

As the typical shopper turns the corner to enter the “bread and cookies” aisle, there approaching from the other direction is a mother accompanied by her child with Down syndrome.

Reaching for the avocados perched at the top of a compelling pyramid, we may be aware of the person in a wheelchair, trying to navigate the process of testing and selecting a few of the gleaming green fruits, but having difficulty reaching without causing the entire display to tumble across the floor.

The man moving toward the same checkout line that we have targeted is wrestling with what appears to be Parkinson’s disease.

How do we react? Do we look away, pretend the people in front of us are invisible? Do we beat a hasty retreat, changing aisles so as not to intersect and interact?

And, how do we feel?

Back to the present

On the summer viewing list, for one of those rainy nights in August when sitting in the yard is out of the question, may we recommend Still, the Michael J. Fox documentary streaming on AppleTV+?

Perhaps for the obvious reason that Fox was the explosive star of television (Family Ties and Spin City)  and film (the Back to the Future trilogy) and so much of a beloved presence, that the public responded to the announcement of his Parkinson’s Diagnosis with conviction. We had strength in numbers, so to speak, as we bore the shock, and didn’t have to meet him head on in the produce aisle.

The documentary is Fox’s story. He narrates the piece and invites all of us to watch his meteoric rise to fame,

the missteps along the way, the triumphs, and the ultimate tragedy. We are in the room as he works with a physical therapist and tries to conquer the basics of walking and turning without falling. We are not embarrassed and do not have to look away. This is streaming television, after all, and there is no judgement when we react. There is no “clean up in aisle three” or “buy one, get one free.”

Like Dani Izzie, Michael J. Fox isn’t interested in pity or being singled out because his condition is different. He’s accepted his fate and wants to be treated just like Dani does – as a person. When in the later stages of the film, he walks down the street, passes some pedestrians, and unexpectedly falls, he greets the moment with a sense of humor that creates laughter all around. “You swept me off my feet,” he offers and the moment is no longer awkward. It is simply real.

The media continue to give us ample opportunity to become engaged with lives that may be very different because of disabilities. Fox’s film is a major example. Dani also tells her story in the captivating film Dani’s Twins.

Remembering Team Hoyt

For those who live near Boston or, from a distance, follow the international phenomenon that is the annual Boston Marathon, media coverage of that event has, for the past decades always included a close-up view of a father/son team who personified the notion of being seen and welcomed for who they were, not what they looked like or what challenges they overcame.

Rick Hoyt was born with cerebral palsy, which rendered him a quadriplegic. For 32 Boston Marathon races, Rick’s father Dick pushed him from start to finish, and the crowds along the course cheered louder each year. Both Dick and Rick have died, Dick in 2021 and Rick in 2023. The impact of their accomplishments, however, lives on – affirming the notion that we are all simply people with dreams and aspirations, regardless of condition.

In Dani Izzie’s words, how we see ourselves, how we respond to the challenges that life presents, how we respond to others will never make us “inspirations.” It will simply define who we are. •