Accidents of Nature

Right now I’m reading Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson. It’s about a girl with cerebral palsy who experiences a political awakening while at cross-disability camp in North Carolina in the 1970s. I first heard about this book about ten years ago when I attended a writers’ conference in Charleston. Harriet was a fellow attendee. She gave a reading from her wheelchair in a crowded bar. Her story had nothing to do with her disability. If I remember correctly, it was about a hunting trip. Anyway, she mentioned this bizarre camp her parents had sent her to, and that she was working on a story about it. And this is the story.

Harriet is a wonderful writer, with a dark sense of humor. She has also given me a lot of think about. The following passage has been dogging me for days now, from the time I read it, through Lilia’s therapy session, and up until right now:

“It is funny. Therapists, teachers, relatives – everyone – they all think walking is such a wonderful thing. And we don’t question that. We believe it must be worthwhile, or they wouldn’t torture us for it. And then, finally, you get up on your feet, take a few halting steps – pardon me, I mean courageous and determined steps – and the cameras flash, and everyone’s inspired. But then you find out walking is a lousy way to move from place to place. And as you get bigger, it’s worse. When you fall down, you have farther to go. When you start to think for yourself, you realize a wheelchair is a better way to get where you’re going.”

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