I have to admit I haven’t read the book. The movie won’t be out for about a week yet. All I have done is watch the trailer, and I can already tell I won’t like the story. Me Before You is a movie about a man with a disability who falls in love with his caregiver. Oh, and from what I can tell, he wants to end his life because he would rather die than be paralyzed.
I am connected with numerous disability advocates and organizations on Facebook. I can say that for the last few days people have been going crazy. Any type of media that sends the message that death is better than disability is a slap in the face to all of us who play the cards we are dealt with dignity and live meaningful lives.
I have read several blog posts about the movie and was so impressed with one of them that I put it on my personal Facebook page. Ironically, though, it is another blog post about the movie trailer that has been on my mind for the last few hours. At one point in the trailer, the guy who is paralyzed says to his girlfriend/caregiver “I don’t want you to miss out on the things that other people can give you.”
The woman who wrote the post that I read this afternoon focused mostly on that sentence. She is a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy and she said she has felt that way at times in her life. She has told her friends with disabilities to go on without her if they wanted to do something she is not capable of doing. As a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy myself, I can also say there have been times in my life when I have done the same thing. Because I didn’t want to be a burden. Or drag anybody down. Or to have anybody miss out on the fun they could have, because of my disability. It all makes me feel very “less than.”
But that whole line of thinking is flawed. My friends don’t spend time with me because they are doing me a favor. The are not trying to rack up “I’m a good person” points so they can get into Heaven. Rather, they want to be around me because I am a pleasant sort and they see my positive traits. With my good friends, after we accommodate what we need to accommodate, my disability disappears. As it should.
When I think about the same line, “I don’t want you to miss out on what someone else can give you,” immediately my mind tries to turn that around. In any relationship I have, romantic or otherwise, what can I bring to it that nobody else can? Who else can listen without judgment through the lens of my experience? Who can offer support to someone else from my individual perspective? I choose to believe that God created every human being unique in body, mind, and spirit. Nobody on the planet has the same mix of characteristics that I do, both good and bad.
And if you must use that line in a negative context, the “Why would you put up with me, I need to set you free so you can be happy” one, the same could be said for couples of various races, ages, and who come with various forms of baggage. From where I sit, people get into relationships because they are attracted to the positive qualities they see in each other. As love grows, they learn to deal with the perceived negative ones because they understand in their soul that truly loving someone means loving the whole package, not just the parts of a person that are easy. And truly loving someone doesn’t mean you like everything about them. It just means you have an open heart to accept both the good and the not so good.
A few years ago I had a particular caregiver who wanted to know more about my family. When I told her that my brother had a spinal cord injury and was a wheelchair user, she wanted to know more details. I went on to say that he is married and had four kids. Without skipping a beat, she assumed that my sister in law had already been dating my brother at the time of his accident. When I told her they didn’t meet until several years later, she was stunned. “Wow,” she said, “Your sister in law must be an incredibly special woman…”
What was she saying? That my sister in law settled for less than she deserved by marrying my brother? That people with disabilities are not attractive and shouldn’t expect to be in romantic relationships? That my sister in law deserves a halo for “taking on” the “burden” of sharing her life with my brother? I couldn’t articulate why I was so offended back then, but now I understand. This particular caregiver had the “Me Before You” mindset. For the record, I didn’t happen to like that caregiver much.
It seems to me that healthy loving relationships shouldn’t ever be about Me Before You, or Me After You, or Me Above You, or Me Below You, or anything else that is unequal.
But rather Me Beside You. We are in this together.