Look Beyond

A few decades ago, when I had fewer miles on my wheelchair and significantly less self-esteem, I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out my place in the world.  As I started college, I was hundreds of miles away from home and searching to solidify what I thought about myself and my purpose in life.   Desperately I wanted people to see me as a person before wheelchair, and to get to know me as an individual instead of only the things they assumed I struggled with.

One summer I had the opportunity to be a counselor at  a camp for adults and kids with disabilities.  When I applied for the job, people in my support system were telling me that I could be a role model.  But that seemed kind of arrogant to me.  I didn’t want anyone to look at my life and aspire to accomplish the things that I had because every individual is unique, and has their own hopes and dreams.  Instead, my hope for the people with disabilities I met was that they would see me as someone they had something in common with.  I understood some of the things they were going through and I could be a sounding board if they needed me to be.

As I listened to the campers for several weeks, I discovered that many of them wanted the same thing that I wanted.  For people in society to look beyond the surface, look beyond the difference, and see the people they were interacting with for who they really were.

It was while I was at camp that I wrote the following poem:

Look Beyond

I might walk with a limp people notice

Or have  speech that is hard to understand

But I can still share a smile

Hug a friend, or hold a hand

Maybe I was in an accident

I could have lost my sight

But I want to make it very clear

The rest of me is all right

I may have seizures sometimes

It could be hard for me to hear

But when you are happy, share your laughter

And when you are sad, I’ll dry your tears

I may move very slowly

And do some things a little different

But that doesn’t mean I want pity

Or that I will never be content

I like to focus on the positives

There is so much that I can do

The spirit inside me is able to dream

I want that to shine through

I accomplish goals in a unique time frame

But they are achieved

Some people doubt I can do it

As for me, I believe

Because my limitations are not that important

They are not all that I see

They are only a very tiny part

Of the person who is me

So when you first meet me keep in mind

Being human is our common bond

Our lives are very different

But to really know me, look beyond…

Lorraine Cannistra

Today, more than 25 years later, it is what I hope still.  That when people encounter someone who has some challenges that are different than their own, they choose to look beyond the disability see the person inside.