Maybe having polio also caused me to in some ways be more compassionate, yet in some ways more objective or maybe even less forgiving about what people say they cannot do. I have a harder time believing that statement, “I can’t do it, I could never do it,” having found that I could do far more than I ever thought I could, because I had to — though now it is physically true that there are more things that are truly impossible for me to do. There is so much I had to do just to function, so much I would have preferred not to have to do, but it was that, or miss out on life.
I have travelled the world, hiked in the woods alone, climbed on to boats and down their treacherous ladders somehow, ridden on the back of motorcycles, danced for two hours as a young woman, walked alone in Guadalajara and London, and skied on my one strong leg (though only once on an intermediate slope, otherwise, all bunnies, all the time). All that with a deformed hip, a paralyzed leg, and probably more afraid than most women. I was not doing it because I’m fearless. I was scared to death the first time I went down a slight incline on skis, and scared when I climbed on to my first boat, that I’d lose my balance and fall into the brink, conking my head and becoming more disabled on the way down. I have mostly not been the right person to whom to say, “I can’t.” I might respond, “Of course you can, if you want to, and if you are physically able to do it. If you don’t want to, then, of course, you can’t.”
With maturity, I have also realized that people can be psychologically or emotionally handicapped as well; there can be something within that creates a barrier to accomplishment. But for me, that type of limitation has always seemed surmountable (barring schizophrenia or panic disorder, though I’ve known people who worked through panic disorder), whereas permanent paralysis is a different circumstance… it just dictates some very literal impossibilities. I know there are people with two paralyzed legs who have scaled mountains with the help of others. Paralympics. A president who contracted polio and stayed in office. I’m not talking about that heroic stuff we all hear about, I’m talking about it being impossible for those same guys to actually hike, with their legs, up those peaks, or stroll into anyplace at all, whether a hall at the White House or a shopping mall, without a wheelchair, an exoskeleton, a walker, a cane, or crutches. For me, strolling anywhere is nearly impossible without a cane or crutches. A scooter is far more realistic.
So that’s how I define “I can’t;” to me, it’s physically literal.