But on my path to reach you, I promise to grab every opportunity with both hands, to say yes as often as I can, to take risks, to scare myself stupid, and to have a shitload of fun.
-Comedian and disability advocate, Stella Young, letter to her 80-year old self
This quote captures how we should ALL live – taking opportunities, saying a big YES to life, taking risks that even scare ourselves, and of course, having loads of fun. If we don’t do those, what kind of life are we living and what will we say to our 80-year old selves?
You may remember earlier this year, I wrote Are we really inspiring about the belief that Stella Young posed in her captivating TED talk that people with disabilities aren’t inspiring for just living their life.
Sadly, that voice of honest wisdom was silenced on Saturday. Stella passed away from what is believed to be an aneurysm at the too young age of 32. There was so much more we could have learned from her about LIVING with disability.
It was just last month that an eloquent letter to her 80-year old self was published. It’s so worth the bittersweet read.
Below you’ll find my reprint of Are We Really Inspiring in honor of Stella, who did not inspire us, but challenged us to look at things as they really are and to LIVE our precious lives, no matter what. Give yourself a gift and watch or re-watch her TED talk and share your reactions below in the comments.
Are We Really Inspiring?
Published: JUNE 18, 2014
Or are we just living lives?
That is the question posed and challenged to you in a video that ended up in my inbox last week. The answer is articulated beautifully by comedian and disability activist, Stella Young in a recent TED talk. This nine minute talk may challenge the way you look at people with disabilities and this whole notion about whether we’re inspiring or not. And that is a very good thing!
Stella captured what I have been thinking about for years now. Are people with disabilities viewed as typically inspiring for simply living pretty ordinary lives? Is it somehow inspiring when we grocery shop, pay bills, or go to work? If so, why?
“Because we have been told a lie about disability,” Stella says. “The lie is that disability is a bad thing and to live with one is exceptional.”
I love that statement. It so ties into I give on Releasing the Myth of Disability, which essentially teaches people to develop an awareness of the false societal belief that disability is a horrible fate. Stella claims (rightly so) that many people have a tendency to look at people with disabilities and think, “No matter how bad it is for me, it could be worse.”
There is so much teaching to be done to flip this attitude around and let society know there is joy and peace in living with a disability. Sometimes this serenity comes from the very fact we are different, that we don’t easily “fit in,” and we’re just fine with that. There’s also a lot of education needed about how people with disabilities often just lead ordinary lives and there’s nothing exceptional about that.
As I had the idea for this post rolling around in my head and was taking my evening walk with my son, who is still in a stroller, a man stopped along the trail to say to me, “I see you walking him (my son) here quite a bit and I got to tell you how inspiring you are.”
I thanked the man. I was not necessarily offended because I could tell the compliment was from the heart. He even touched his heart as he spoke to me. My belief is that if I can touch people’s hearts, then that’s the doorway to changing beliefs and attitudes.
After I thanked the man, I said, “Well, I have to get my exercise in somehow.” What I thought was how I was just doing a very ordinary thing – exercise – because heart disease does not discriminate against disability….and that I love this life of mine with a disability and want to keep living it for another 45 years!
Enjoy Stella’s talk, I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much; it’s so worth the nine minutes. Take her up on the challenge to question what you think you know about disability.