Fighting is the thread that connects Erin Kelly to the rest of the world.
I don’t know what the weather was like that day. I don’t know what her face looked like. I don’t know what time it was or who else was there, if anyone. All I know is that my birthmother had me, presumably on a sidewalk or street in Seoul, Korea. She didn’t know she was bringing a fighter into the world.
As a result of my crude birth, it is assumed that lack of oxygen to my brain is the reason why I have Cerebral Palsy. I was found abandoned prior to being taken to a police station with a note that read, “Please place her with a family that can take care of her.”
On the other side of the world in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Tim Kelly, whom I’ve called Dad for the past twenty-seven years, was flipping through a pamphlet on adoption. He eagerly picked up the phone while looking at a picture of me he found inside the pamphlet.
“Hey, honey. What’s Cerebral Palsy?” he asked Debbie, his wife, who worked with a local adoption agency at the time.
As if by fate, they adopted me when I was eleven months old. I’m told I was diagnosed formally with CP soon after by the doctor whom my Mom worked with and consulted throughout the adoption process
He delivered what was thought to be crushing news: “Your daughter’s potential will peak at a certain age, then stop. I’m sorry.”
My parents’ response to that has always been, “Try another way.” They’ve never told me “no” when I’ve had an idea or wanted to do something in life. I don’t recall them ever having to sit down with me to say, “Erin, this is the way things have to be.” I’ve understood since day one that I carry more baggage than the average person. Since day one I’ve been conditioned to translate “no” and “can’t” to “fight.”
Fighting the storm my baggage stirs inside me, I wait for someone to get me out of bed every morning, hear the garage door’s handicap entrance open and close a million times a day, listen to the pitter-patter of footsteps casually cross that threshold. However, I “do battle” knowing I’m not the only one.
Fighting is all I know how to do. It’s what every person with a disability has to do to make it in life. If I hadn’t learned this at an early age I’d still be that silent little girl in the wheelchair in the corner.
It’s a small thing that often goes unnoticed but it’s ultimately the thread that connects me as well as an entire demographic of individuals to the rest of the world when it feels like all other ties have been cut off.
I remember asking Mom when I was younger, “Why do I always have to fight for everything?”
She smiled and simply said, “You’ll fight for the rest of your life, honey. You were born a fighter.”
There’s always been a small part of me that feels like the world revolves around me, and it makes me feel like the centerpiece of a cracked snow globe while the rest of civilization goes about its business.
There’s a multitude of things distinct, emotions I can feel in my bones. The constant hum that orchestrates the symphony of my fight song. I don’t ignore it, partly because it’s the very thing that binds me to every single person who’s ever felt the sting from a fight, and because being adopted has given me a life and opportunities I don’t think I’d have otherwise.
The circumstances aren’t the same. The plan of attack isn’t the same. That simple fact is universal—and in a humbling way makes the wars I have with myself seem small. A reminder that adoption is a selfless act of love.
It’s one of the oldest clichés in the book, but I know there are others out there fighting wars I could never fight. So while I’m figuring out how to get from place-to-place everyday, I’m also tipping my hat to those who are battling other demons, be it poverty, drug addiction, abuse or something else altogether.
I’ve quietly learned not to base my reasons for overcoming odds solely on my Cerebral Palsy. Like everyone else I too fight to find the things that are worth fighting for and through this fight my motives have sharpened. Some have deepened, others have dissipated.
The essence of fighting isn’t about wins and loses or who can get the upper hand; it’s about glancing in rearview mirrors, digging deeper, playing the best game you can with the cards you’ve been dealt.