This cheery colloquialism is said in an effort to make horrible, hateful things that happen to you seem part of a greater plan and give hope that once you have pushed through the latest injustice, you will somehow emerge as some sort of super-human on par with the Hulk or Superman. The truth is that I have been hearing this saying all my life and am still waiting for my honourary super strength or, at the very least, a gold star.
Most of the offenses I have withstood in my, albeit short, lifetime have been due to a breach of conduct between myself and what is accepted as “normal” in society. I never thought of myself as being abnormal, but then people would hear that I was home-schooled through elementary school (“That means you wear long skirts and don’t know how to talk to people, right?”), or that our family took in foster children (“But those kids are wild, aren’t they?”), and little by little I began to realize how much I am not like the majority.
When I was 12, I had two foster sisters who had severe Cerebral Palsy. It amazed me how people would have no qualms about staring wide-eyed at the wheelchairs and tubes, and drool as we passed them on the street. You could clearly see some people squirm as you rolled up closer to them in a Wal-Mart line-up, or wheeled in to sit beside them at a school concert. The gawkers rarely made an effort to walk over and talk to us, or the girls.
At age 14, my first of two wonderful little brothers was born. To my shock and dismay, this meant that I was just the right age to appear as one of those “Darn Teenage Mothers,” as I chased my brothers up and down shopping aisles, or fed them their bottles while waiting for my mother at the dentist. I never expected the snide comments and dirty looks, along with the occasional pitying sidelong glance, that were dished out (mainly by middle-aged women). I found myself often announcing things like, “OK, Baby, let’s go find our mom!” or “Who loves sister! Yes, you love sister!”
Then there was that awkward stage — all through high school — when I was determined to be cool even though I didn’t drink or party: a recipe for success. And let us not forget that wonderful growth spurt which left my limbs flailing and people wondering if I had succumbed to Anorexia.
Being told that you are “a little too skinny, if you ask me” is hardly more complementary than being told that you are too fat.
For better of for worse, social stigmas profoundly shape the people we become. I still clarify as often as I can that I am only a sister to my six- and seven-year-old brothers. I am still sensitive about my gangly legs and spindly arms. And if you should even dare to make a Helen Keller joke around me, I will make you feel like the lowest person alive.
We are all acutely aware of the wrongs that have been inflicted upon us, but are we cognizant of the words and actions that we inflict on others? If we are using derogatory words such as “retard,” or saying that things are “so gay,” or taking time out of our day to gawk at the homeless, the disabled or the just plain different without following up that stare with a kind smile or a simple hello, then we are contributing to the isolation and stigma likely already felt by these people.
If you would like a challenge, go out and befriend someone who makes you feel uncomfortable today. What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger, but what they don’t tell you is that it’s a lot easier to make it through the hard times if you have a friend who is willing to go through it with you.
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf