It’s easy to take things for granted. It’s even easier to a meticulous painting or a clear blue sky and think its beauty is temporary. We tell ourselves it won’t last. Or it won’t mean as much years from now.
The question becomes, ‘Why do we hold onto things we know will fade away?’ It’s likely to cause pain and anguish if we get too close or become attached. Yet, we run the risk of missing out on so much if we don’t make some sort of connection. That beautiful sky, painting or whatever we’re looking at, might lose its importance to us. It might turn into another object or fixture in the world if we don’t look at it in the right light.
I’ve never wanted that to be the case with many things in my life. I didn’t want to get into the habit of thinking my circumstances make everything dark and dreary. I’ve never wanted anyone around me to feel that way, either – especially the people who were in the audience during my senior project at Penn State Altoona.
It was a bitterly cold night in December 2009 as people began to pile into a large room on campus. I greeted everyone with a smile and thanked them for coming. I couldn’t help but glance over at the stage where I’d hopefully be giving those in attendance something to remember, but also saying goodbye to my professors and peers at the same time.
I didn’t make any promises that the audience was going to see a great show, but I was given an amazing opportunity to bring my emotions to life in a way I never thought possible. My English professor who oversaw the production spotted me and walked over to check on things before I went on stage.
“How are you feeling now?” he asked, knowing I’d been nervous from working relentlessly on this – and rehearsing with the student actors whom we had chosen.
“I’m still a little shaky,” I admitted. “I’m ready, though!”
“Great!” he said. “You made this happen, Erin. This is your story, and we’re here to help you tell it in a new way.
I’m excited for people to see you tonight!”
I wasn’t about to let this pass me by, now everything had come together and was actually happening. It was bittersweet too because I knew this would be one of the few times – maybe the only time – when most of the people who took a chance on me during my college career would be gathered in one room. The fact I had never been in a theater production before, much less directed one, made this even more exhilarating.
I didn’t want to let them down. More importantly, I didn’t want the people involved in this production to feel like they wasted their time. I couldn’t worry about any of that now.
It was show time. I took a deep breath before lining my wheelchair up with the makeshift ramp to the stage. My professor followed and gave a brief but beautiful introduction. When everyone was settled, the poetry I had written suddenly came to life – and the audience was with me every step of the way.
They heard every word of every poem. They saw the stiff, rough movement as my student maneuvered around me in a circle as they read. I looked out into the audience and saw people crying and wiping tears from their eyes without saying a word. I was tangled in a web of colorful ribbon about two hours later, feeling like I had done more than simply say goodbye to so many people who impacted my life up until this point.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have to explain why I’m in a wheelchair or why my legs don’t work. I didn’t have to pretend having a disability is a simple matter of getting through each day. Every person in the room connected with what was happening on stage in some way. it wasn’t just a look that said, “Wow, this is good!” I think it was a combination of gratitude and a genuine appreciation for a glimpse into what my life is really like when I struggle.
It felt liberating to be able to represent myself. I still feel that way every time I write. I hope it never goes away because it’s a huge part of why I started my journey as a writer in the first place.
When the feeling creeps in, don’t push it down into your gut. Let it out and express it. It might be scary, but this is what propels to you things you’d never imagine.
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