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What Is This Thing Called Normal?

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What is this thing called normal?

All my life, it seems, I have searched for a definition for this word … this idea. Just as with happiness, it is a relative term and so very elusive. It is out there somewhere, but seems to have no real definition, at least, none that I can come up with, or, at certain times in my life, I have tried to define it:

Normal: To be what everyone else (except me?) is; to have no visible signs of anything wrong. Nothing anyone can zero-in on to make fun of. Nothing visible to mock someone for having what they have, or being what they are thought to be. 

That was my definition for years and, to some small extent, what it continues to be. Except that, as I grow older, and hopefully more mature, I’m beginning to see that that definition doesn’t work as well. It seems, well, rather superficial.

Our society views anything different as being bad, something to be avoided. Whether it is a physical disability, an emotional disorder, mental illness, or a developmental delay, it is something no one wants to have a part of. It is too uncomfortable to face or to deal with. Having a disability/handicap is viewed as the leprosy of old: unclean! Those who are different are shunned; or, at the very least, made to feel that what, and who they are is unacceptable. If a person is born normal, all is well. After all, what do new parents do as soon as they see their infant? Check to see that there are ten fingers and ten toes; they want to make sure everything is intact and where/how it should be. Once that is established, they can rest easy, knowing that they have a healthy child.

But what if something happens along the way … what if, perhaps, they find out, not long after the birth, that something is not right? What does it do to the parents, inside their minds, to now know that the child they once thought was healthy, might now have a defect? The heart stops for a moment; they have to regroup, collect their thoughts, and try to come to terms with what that diagnosis is going to mean; not only for their child, but for themselves. How will the child manage/go through life with this disability?! How will they, the parents, deal with it? How will they face the world with this? The joyful event is now a tragedy. Now, a once healthy child is perhaps viewed entirely different from what he or she was, just a few minutes, hours, or days before.

I am thinking, especially now, of this mother of the octuplets. What was once a miracle (all of birth is a miracle), is now viewed as something entirely different. No matter that the mother is now seen as being on the bottom rung of society, being single (by choice), on welfare, and having eight more children than is seen as acceptable to have; now it is brought to her, and the world’s attention that these babies may have an increased chance of having cerebral palsy. Oh, my gosh—what a tragedy! Another possible burden on her shoulders. Another, very possible burden on society. That is how it is seen. It is not necessarily so. 

Truthfully, the child is blissfully ignorant of the furor circling around him/her. The child does not know that s/he is any different from anyone else for having this condition, or handicap. Children do not CARE about those things; they are innocent, pure; they want only to be loved. If the child grows up in a loving home, where s/he is accepted for her/himself for being what s/he is, they will take that acceptance with them out into the world, and be no worse for it. The child will probably be strong enough to form friendships like everyone else, because they know who/what they are is okay; and will be more accepting of others for themselves.

If, however, there is/has been any doubt planted in that child’s mind that they are not okay, there might be some problems. Hit the school-age years, and whoa! All of a sudden I’m not okay? There is something wrong with me?! I might have a speech defect, or walk weird. Now, I am the poster child for everything that can possibly be, or is wrong?! I don’t think so. Unfortunately, too often that is the case. Discomfort with disabilities at home may be passed down to the children; who come to school with the idea that having a disability is something to be avoided; to be feared. Children, who lack the maturity to distinguish what is normal for others to be, naturally hone in on any differences they see in someone who is thought to be unlike them, and the ridicule begins. In the schoolyard, life among one’s peers, if you have a disability or anything different about, or wrong with you, is nothing short of hellish.

Fast-forward ten years, to junior high. The want/need to be accepted among your peers is very strong among most kids that age; add Special Education classes to the fray, and things become even dicier than before.

Now, forty-some years after those hellish days in the schoolyard, I am still facing some of these issues. As an adult, of course, I know (or should know, anyway), that I am okay for who I am; even with a slight speech defect, or walking kind of weird (due, not so much to cerebral palsy, but to a hip discrepancy). But, do I really believe that? Forty some years later, it still matters, way too much, what people think. I still want their acceptance. Don’t most people; despite what they might say to the contrary? I’m still battling this idea of normal; thinking, somewhere back in my still-somewhat-adolescent mind, that if I were more normal I’d be accepted. So, what can I do to be normal?

What is this thing called normal, anyway and how will I know when I’ve reached that? Why should it even MATTER?! If I’m trying to be normal, then I’m trying to be something I have no idea about; have no experience with. I am trying to be someone/thing I’m not, simply because it’s easier to be normal than to fight the system and have to deal with the discomfort of what I think being me might mean. I rebel against this idea of disability; yet I have one. What irony! Does that mean, then, that I am my own worst enemy; guilty of the same snobbishness and ignorance that has been inflicted on me?! Why do I want to be normal, if that’s what being normal means? I am what I am. I love others; I try my best to be as accepting/nonjudgmental of others as I want them to be, of me. I am loved, and accepted, by those who truly understand me; not just speech, but deep inside. What more can I ask for?

Thus said, I begin (a month/decade/half a lifetime?! late) right here and now, to resolve, in 2009 and beyond, to do away with this hell-bent obsession to be normal! Not only because I don’t even know, or, at this point, really even care what that means; but because (as is so truthfully stated by a dear, dear friend of mine) … I’m normal for ME! To learn not only to say, but to truly believe that ’I’m okay’. No matter what others think/say/do, I am okay with myself for who I am! Easy? No; not with a lifetime of fighting every part of me that isn’t like anyone else (fortunately, I see, now!), but it is the only way to go; the only way to be. 

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