Last Saturday night, someone called to tell me that Oscar Pistorius was running. She turned up her TV in case I could hear what was going on. The only audible thing was the roar.
“Can you imagine,” she said, “if somebody had said, ‘No, Oscar, you can’t run, it looks dangerous and we just don’t want you to fall’?”
Fortunately, Pistorius’ mother wrote him a letter when he was very young, before his legs were amputated: “The real loser is never the person who crosses the finishing line last. The real loser is the person who sits on the side. The person who does not even try to compete.”
Pistorius missed the finals, and South Africa lost Friday’s relay, but he did what he set out to do: after setting records in the Paralympics, he made it through work and controversy to the Olympics. He took his mother at her word.
There’s a pretty big jump between most people and Pistorius—most of us aren’t going to be Olympic athletes. Some of us don’t even want to be athletes. Most of us aren’t going to be the best in the world at what we do. But the principle is the same, whatever we do. We all need to get around in the world; we all need to try and fail and—even and especially—fall. We all fall, because we all move. Everybody should be able to fall and get back up, be it metaphorically or literally. To do so is to learn, or to have control of your own person. Everyone deserves to control their own body as much as they’re able. We don’t prevent kids from learning to ride a bike because they fall sometimes.
I am very fond of Rebecca Rissman’s We All Move for this reason. It illustrates walking, running, and other movements entirely through photos of people with disabilities. “Some people run” is illustrated with a man running on blades like Pistorius. “Some people dance” is illustrated with a wheelchair dancer, and so on. Presumably, the runner or the monoskier has fallen and will fall at some point. Yet they still move. Everyone in the book seems to be enjoying themselves. Sometimes, just feeling your body move is enough.
I think this is the only children’s book I’ve seen that uses people with disabilities as the default to explain a basic human condition. They are in the foreground, the norm. Their bodies are simply their bodies. That is inclusion in its purest form, obviating the need for the word. There is no otherness and thus no fear. We all move, the book says to the child, whether on sticks or blades or wheels, so figure out how you move. And then find out what you can do.