The following was a monologue I submitted for a student-run performance at Duke. I was going to write a blog piece on this issue, but felt that it would be better to keep it in its original form:
Having a visible disability is like shark bait for ignorant people lacking scruples. I swear, the mere sight of crutches is like blood in the water. Having lived with a disability all my life, I’ve learn to accustom myself to the inevitable stares or occasional questions, but the days I dread are the ones in which I’ve accidentally crossed paths with someone who’s decided that I am the perfect opportunity to exemplify God’s power to heal. On the spot. I’ve been taught to handle it with grace with a polite smile and nod and move about business as usual. However, there’s no manner guidebook for actually being prayed on. I don’t me for. I mean on…
I must have been 15 and my brother and I were off on a routine trip to visit dad for school vacation. He and my mother, feeling that it was a more efficient way to handle the pre-flight business, sat me at a bench outside the security checkpoint while they headed up one floor to check in the luggage. From the corner of my eye I glanced at the woman and her elderly mother cooing to a stroller in soft Spanish and proceeded to wait to my cue to move to get in line. Shortly thereafter, my mother and brother returned to collect me and as I stood from the bench, the woman approached my mother.
“May we pray with your daughter?” The woman asked. No stranger to such inquires at this point, my mother mumbled “Sure”, and motioned for me to follow her. Poor mom. I am sure she never would have consented if she had paid proper attention to the usage of prepositions but the next thing I knew I was caught in what can only be described as a quite unholy prayer sandwich. The woman and her mother placed one hand on my back and one on my chest and right there, in the middle of the Ft. Lauderdale airport, began to feverishly pray on my body for Jesus to heal me. Between shouts of JESUS CRISTO! and HEAL HER FATHER GOD! their bodies shook violently, as if wracked by father, son, and holy ghost all at once. I looked at my mother’s sheet white face and mouthed “MAKE. THIS. STOP.” She looked helplessly on, unsure how to make the scene come to a swift end without seeming rude just gave me an apologetic shrug. I finally had to bite my lip to keep from laughing, as did my brother, because things had reached level of Salvador-Dali absurdism. Once the incident passed, we made our way to the gate without saying a word, collectively too stunned to believe that yes, that really just happened.
Did I ever tell you that it really just happened more than once? More than once. So there I was with mom and my stepfather this time, wearily making it to the parking lot with our luggage yet again at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. What IS it about the fucking Ft. Lauderdale airport? The man pushing out luggage cart stopped at our car and asked my mom (because why ask my consent, right?) if he could pray. My stomach turned. Oh no, not again. At a loss of what to do she nodded-MOTHER, NO!-, and he approached with the same caution one would approach a frightened dear and asked if I believe in prayer. I choked out a yes and picked a spot on the pavement to stare at and waited until it was over. He held out his hands and prayed for God to heal me, but with the added twist and flourish of asking God to take the Devil’s hands off me.
I spent the ride home yet again in stunned silence, not from shock and mild hilarity, but from stunned humiliation. At least he didn’t actually touch me this time…
Though Individually uncomfortable and at times, even amusing, these incidents collectively have left scars on me as real as the ones on my body. Rather than heal me as they intended (and you know the old maxim about good intentions), they helped break my self-esteem. They brought forth questions I’ve sought to stifle, questions that repeat in my head with sadistic rhythm when I’m out in public. Do I really seem that broken to people when I walk out the door? Does my body project a fate seem so grim that I actually need saving? Every once in a while I have to actively remind myself that what happened to me was an objective case of a genetic splicing error-not the Devil’s handiwork.
So, what have we learned here? First of all, I’ll never take my grade school teachers for granted again because prepositions really fucking matter. Just ask my mom. Secondly, when people stop someone with a visible disability and asks to pray, the problem lies not in the good intentions or wishing someone well. There are days I appreciate the feeling that people are out there rooting for me. The problem is that someone at first glance makes an assumption that my life is so bad and full of suffering and miserable that I need immediate holy intervention. What people should really be praying for in this situation is to have their good intentions supplemented with good judgment because I think that’s what God probably would have preferred. Heaven knows I would.