from “Letters to a Young Cripple” #7

Dear __________,

Someone wrote me and said I’m not sufficiently optimistic in these letters. This could be true. I have to conceive of it. I’ve plenty of faults. I already covered self-regard. Sure. I’ve a head on me. And a mouth. But I’ve a dram of self-awareness and I’m sipping.

The trouble with cripple optimism is I don’t like pom poms. Disability sentiment, treacle, the tawdry Telethons, the sloganeering—“the only disability is a bad attitude” these leave me colder than the dead hands of Charlton Heston.

I do believe disability optimism rests in getting the job done, whether that’s protesting the outright inaccessibility of a program, service, or building, or persisting in endeavors that make us stronger. There’s no sugar flavor when it comes to what I hold because cripples too often have to eat their own hearts. Do you remember the famous poem by Stephen Crane? Here it is:

In the Desert

In the desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,

Who, squatting upon the ground,

Held his heart in his hands,

And ate of it.

I said, “Is it good, friend?”

“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it

“Because it is bitter,

“And because it is my heart.”

Contrast this with the following quote from Winston Churchill:

May the pain you have known and the conflict you have experienced give you the strength to walk through life facing each new situation with courage and optimism.

Now, Crane’s poem would be entirely different if it began:

In the desert

I saw a courageous man…

Which begs the question, is it courage and it’s sister, optimism, which raises us from being merely beasts?

A false dichotomy perhaps, but it’s a point well taken, for if optimism is at least worthy of this question it’s worth imagining as one of the intellectual ingredients necessary for a productive life.

Eating your heart is not in any sense a profitable activity.

But let’s say an optimist could eat his heart. He would, I think, say it is tough.