realizing "our need of one another": Sarah Gelbard on our shared humanity

Monday, March 23, 2015

Not long ago, while I was enthusing about my students to a friend, I was stopped by a gently lifted hand and a question: "But don't you always love your students?"

But love, I wanted to say, is particular. Love is not an undifferentiated rush. Love happens because. Because of who these young people are, because of the community they've built, because they are working proof of the power of unshackled hearts and vulnerability and the kind of imagination that becomes another way of saying compassion. I love my students. I love these students.

Last week, while posting my HuffPo essay on My Spectaculars and their expectations regarding the memoirs they read, I promised that we would soon hear from Sarah Gelbard, my graduate student who slipped into our classroom as an auditor that first day and (we're so infinitely glad) stayed. A few Tuesdays ago, I asked Sarah, who works with the Friedreich Ataxia Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, to read to the class a piece she had written for Arts Connect International, where she was recently named content editor. I've been eager, ever since, to share this complete essay with you, especially in light of, well, everything. Including this.

Here is how Sarah's piece begins:

Disability is dealt arbitrarily; it is not a welcome present. Nobody goes to the gift shop, and says, “Ankylosing spondylitis— that sounds lovely!” Or, “I’ll take a brachial plexus injury for my brother on his birthday, with the red wrapping paper, please, and a free sampling of multiple sclerosis for me.” While I did not choose cerebral palsy, I do consider myself lucky to be a part of the disabled community. Through it, I have forged valuable connections with a great many, and we are allowed singular insight into the broad spectrum of human empathy. We encounter those who judge harshly, cruelly, fast to reject apparent otherness, and those who reach out seamlessly, kindly, fast to recognize apparent humanness.

Here is how it continues. Please read this. Please share it. It matters. So does Sarah.


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