October. The harvest moon casts a glow over the world, cradling us in a dusky, pale-amber embrace; fallen leaves carpet the neighborhood streets, a blanket made up of all that remains of a summer season full of memories—memories that have been reduced to nothing more than the crumbling crunch-and-shuffle of a footstep; jack-o-lanterns fill the air with the stench of smoke and burning pumpkin so acutely associated with the cool air of autumn, their empty features hollowed out in perpetual laughter as they watch busy streets—streets filled with ghouls, ghosts, and goblins going door to door, harassing harmless homeowners, on their annual pilgrimage for caramel apples and popcorn balls; cats the color of midnight bristle anxiously, eyes mere glowing emeralds, bejeweling feline features as they creep along the tops of fenceposts in search of that one exploitable reveler who would bestow upon them the tiniest scratch of candy.
Ahh, Halloween. No other holiday even remotely resembles the emotions provoked by this day. Fear, excitement, curiosity, disdain. It comes but once a year, and to some, it’s a day on which to venture out and play practical jokes on friends and unsuspecting neighbors. To others, it’s simply a day for sweets and treats. While for others still, this day means freedom. A day to be whomever or whatever you wish. A time when differences make a person special and define who we are. After all, who wants to be “just like everybody else” on Halloween? It’s a time to not only be different, but to mock and celebrate those differences within ourselves that make us unique.
But for some, those differences are with us for more than just that one day out of the year. Those differences are a part of our lives, crosses borne day in and day out. We wake up on November first, after the witches and wild things have gone away for another year, when the costumes and makeup and wigs are put back in the closet, and our disabilities are still on our backs, the monkey that stays with us. It can be a visible difference, a physical malady we wear, not unlike the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or one less noticeable, perhaps an emotional disorder or a developmental disability, that makes us feel dislocated from society. Something. It may not even be anything we can put our finger on or define in so many words. Just some tiny part of us that keeps us from collecting the treats we deserve in everyday life the other 364 days of the year.
Many times, too, it’s difficult to separate ourselves from our own disability, even when we finally discover what that disability is. I say this because we all have some sort of disability, however minor it may be. The need to wear glasses, for instance, is a disability. The person who cannot see without the aid of glasses is no less disabled than the one who needs an Ankle & Foot Orthotic, more commonly known as an AFO, in order to walk correctly. And as anyone with a disability can tell you, you can only live in denial for so long. Sooner or later you have to learn to accept and live with your disability … or you’ll find yourself not living at all.
The epiphany that is this column hit me very recently. For nearly two decades I tried to ignore my own handicap; pretended I’m “normal,” that I could go through life as though my near-fatal and completely life-altering car accident never happened. I denied myself to myself by wearing my disability like a badge, proclaiming, “I’m handicapped but if I ignore it you won’t see it!” I thought my friends wouldn’t accept me if I accepted myself as a handicapped person. I thought I had to act as normal as possible, even if it meant rejecting anyone else who was disabled and suppressing a vibrant and important aspect of what made me me. I had to learn to embrace my disability; make it as much a part of me as baseball, hotdogs and apple pie are part of America. More, I had to become my disability. Allow my disability to become me in order to be proud of what I am, who I’ve become and where I’m going, as much as what I may not, and may never be able to do. Only through this personal intimacy of self-actualization could I find the way to become complete in my differences. A bit preachy? Perhaps, but there’s an honest truth behind this knowledge that is so spiritually freeing … and you cannot ascend to the liberating redemption that accompanies this awareness without first plummeting into the profundities of pain that have to be realized and dealt with.
My closest friends will tell you that I’ve undergone a major emotional transformation this year. I’ve felt the acceptance of the disabled community through allowing myself to become a part of it. There’s such beauty within the face of a man who is simply looking for a smile and a ‘hello.’ A recognition of his existence. My problem was that I turned away from those acknowledgments that were bestowed upon me because I felt patronized. Now I see them as the world attempting to reach out to me, perhaps in the only way it knows how. People trying to look beyond the mask, beyond the costume. Or maybe just trying to understand that everyday should be Halloween. That those who are “different” are actually, deep down inside, the really cool people—because it’s those people who show their masks to the world all year. Not just on Halloween.