Of Disability, Happiness, and an Ear of Wheat

Up late and reading Schopenhauer I came across the following: “Metrodorus, the earliest disciple of Epicurus…wrote as the title of one of his chapters, The happiness we receive from ourselves is greater than that which we obtain from our surroundings.”

Epicureanism aside, (a weighty subject t’is…) the disabled must, perforce, each and everyone of us, carry old Metrodorus with us wherever we may go, for though we may know and cultivate happiness, we often obtain from our surroundings something less than contentment as the built environment and social encounters invariably deprive us of many satisfactions. One is always reminded of the old joke about a man asking for directions from a farmer in the state of Maine who’s told “you can’t get they-ah from he-yah!” Arrivals are thwarted in disability-ville and unlike the joke, which plays off the improbability of arrival, we’re faced with too many circumstances in which happiness cannot be obtained from our surroundings and there’s no way to avoid the fact for it’s a daily matter, unrelenting, and yes, often ugly.

Ugliness is the keystone of ableism and it goes by many names, takes diverse forms, and it’s daily permutations are as convoluted and unbearable as a Rococo picture frame. I recall the time I was to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show and my flight from the Westchester Regional (suburban) airport was canceled. United Airlines hired a bus to take passengers to LaGuardia in New York City where we’d catch a later flight to Chicago. The bus driver wouldn’t let me on board because of my guide dog. The ensuing argument wasn’t merely torturous, it became a Rube Goldberg affair with feints and rhetorical drops—as in, tumbling from reality. He “loved the disabled,” he said. “I have a limp,” he said. “I don’t care about the ADA,” he said.

Eventually I simply boarded the bus, borrowing from the Rosa Parks playbook, for it’s harder to extract a passenger than to argue with him. He gave up.

Disability Epicureanism is an idea that’s both tautological and yet  necessary. Disability is happiness. It just damn well is. Got it? Hey, JoJo Mayes, you got it? Hey, Death with Dignity, capiche? If we do not obtain the same happiness from our surroundings as a rich white dude let’s admit that happiness is simply Jeffersonian—a pursuit. The paralyzed, blind, deaf, non-speaking, the hobbling, we have pursuits. Perhaps we should form a Metrodorus Society. It would have to be ironic, since he believed the perfect body necessary for happiness. But you see, every ear of wheat carries within its own excellence. Silly to write it, yes?