Nancy Mairs On being a Cripple
In her essay titled “On Being a Cripple”, Nancy Mairs mulls over life as a “cripple” after being afflicted with multiple sclerosis (MS). She deserves praise for being able to retain a positive frame of mind keeping in mind the unfortunate consequences of her illness. She does not require people to have sympathy for her. Mairs tends to have her recognized as a cripple instead of a handicapped or disabled person. She makes an interesting observation about the doctors who are in charge to cure her disease.
They have massive egos and more ironically her doctors are more frustrated and diminished by their inability to cure her disease than herself. “I may be frustrated, maddened, depressed by the incurability of my disease, but I am not diminished by it, and they are. When I push myself up from my seat in the waiting room and stumble toward them, I incarnate the limitation of their powers. The least I can do is refuse to press on their tenderest spots.”(12)
She opines that her illness proved beneficial to her life since it enriched her life and playing an important part in her journey towards self-recognition. It is indeed fascinating to note the way she lives up to the challenges of life more audaciously and confidently after the diagnosis of disease. This essay surely provides us with food for thought that one should not feel sorry for his or her deficiencies rather they must try to make the most of their lives.
Mairs assumes that these words describe no one because "Society is no readier to accept crippledness than to accept death, war, sweat, or wrinkles." She goes on to narrate her story of multiple sclerosis and how it tormented her. The hardship as a result of her disease and how he combats it is tacitly echoed throughout the essay. Mairs also talks about how her transitioned into a better one following the diagnosis of disease and how she coped with it.
She describes how different tried to help her but also reflects on the fact that she, despite being a crippled individual, was able to teach and conduct other arduous tasks. Her dependence on the family and their courteous and encouraging behavior also comes under the purview of her discussion. However, the social reality that "...that people are kind to me only because I'm a cripple," is a frightening one.
In other words, she criticizes the society for its obsession with the physical appearance and clichéd notions of normality. She writes that, "anyone who deviates from the norm better find some way to compensate." This highlights the reality that American society on the whole expects too much from an individual.
In the essay, she also speaks of the English language and American society in a satirical vein. She believes that the term cripple is more appropriate to define her personality instead of being dubbed as disabled, handicapped, or differently able. On these grounds, she refers to herself as “cripple” and disallows to apply the same to any other person.
These euphemisms for her condition compel people to view her as something she isn't. She learns the toughest lesson in life, this is to say, she learns how to remain thankful for what she has instead of lamenting her deprivations. She gradually begins to take pride in herself and comes to terms with the problems of life. On a positive note, she does not resign to her fate rather puts in every little effort to make herself content and satisfied with life.
She uses the term “cripple” as a means to interact with the society. It is a word that befittingly represents her social and personal reality and if it makes people "wince," "[p]erhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger" (9). She muses on the euphemisms that are used by others, concluding that they describe no one because "[s]ociety is no readier to accept crippledness than to accept death, war, sex, sweat, or wrinkles."
Mairs explains the ambiguity and uncertainty of a (correct) diagnosis early on, the kind of person she was before, and how that has changed and not changed since her illness. She speaks at length her need for help of other people but manages to compensate her deficiency by stating the presence of so many people around who are willing and ready to help her. She states that she was lucky enough to have a husband and children before going bed-ridden. Nevertheless, there "always is the terror that people are kind to me only because I'm a cripple" (15).
Mairs makes many astute, sharp-edged and witty comments on how disability does not fit well into with our youth-oriented, physical-fitness-obsessed culture, and on how social expectations influence whether she adapts or fails to adapt. She also seems to fully understand the limitations of the society in general and doctors in particular.
Her essay is so often quoted, cited and used as resource learning activity in medical humanities classroom. Written with humor, irony, and open eyes, Mairs keeps the reader off-balance, just as she is kept off-balance by the twists and turns of an unpredictable disease. She defines how she continues doing many of the things she always did, then writes, "..I don't like having MS. I hate it" (12). Proceeding to enumerate further all of the professional and family activities she can enjoy, she then lists many of the activities that she can no longer do, and the depressions that she experiences. "These two elements, the plenty and the privation, are never pure" (13).
Upon seeing herself in the mirror, her abnormal gait terrifies her but in the very next line she refuses to give even a single thought to her appearance saying that “[t]he self-loathing I feel is neither physically nor intellectually substantial. What I hate is not me but a disease" (17).After the publication of this essay, Mairs kept on writing about disability issues drawing on her own personal experiences and specifically from the standpoint of a woman with disabilities.
For example, she wrote and added "Opening Doors, Unlocking Hearts" to her collection, Waist High in the World (1996). The essay, "Sex and Death and the Crippled Body: A Meditation" delves into the position of disabled women, sexuality, parenthood, medical paternalism, suffering, and assisted suicide (in Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities; editors Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson; Modern Language Association of America, New York, 2002).
A friend and colleague of Mairs, Janice Dewey, filmed Mairs over a five-year period; the resulting video documentary, entitled Waist High in the World, was released in 2002. Some of the later segments are very intriguing--for example, a discussion by Mairs's husband, George, of how the disease has affected him and his interaction with his wife; Mairs's response to her increasing incapacitation.
The essay ends telling how she is getting used to have MS and has ceased to cut a sorry figure over her physical condition. Mairs tries to remain thankful for what she possesses and to the people who willingly help her cope with the disease.
Mairs, Nanacy(2005) “On a Cripple / Mutilple Sclerosis” Cengage Learning