Never Judge a Book by Its Cover
Growing up with Spinal Muscular Atrophy has presented me with many obstacles and challenges that I’ve had to overcome. One of them, and perhaps the most difficult, is how throughout my life, I have been automatically defined by my disability in the eyes of others before they would even get to know me. For example, the first nine years of my life before my condition worsened, and, I became wheelchair bound, I was blessed with enough strength to walk. While I was happy with such a blessing, I was often teased because of the way my legs carried me, and for that, I felt self-conscious when seen in public. My gait was more of a conspicuous waddle that resulted in frequent falling which made it hard to keep up with other kids. Because of this, most children weren’t as inclined to play with me or invite me to participate in certain activities.
Having a true friend that saw past the disability was something I had always longed for, but, when society has its standards of what “normal” looks like, it inevitably creates preconceptions when a person doesn’t fit into those standards. However, one day, in fifth grade Sunday school class, I finally met that special person I would later call my best friend. Still, I too, took part in that “judging game”. This lanky little girl, with her unkempt hair, and dingy clothes, sat on the far end of the table, and kept to herself like me. Occasionally, when she was asked a question, this girl would come out with the most peculiar answers, which sometimes resulted in the classroom erupting in derisive snickering; except me. I didn’t like humiliating people or making them feel self-conscious, but I still found myself thinking that person was a bit of an unusual character. As time went on, and the more this girl and I interacted, I became overwhelmed with guilt because not only did she have the most sincere, and affable personality, she also treated me differently compared to everyone else. She looked past the wheelchair and saw the little girl sitting in it. A friendship blossomed then, and we are still best friends to this day.
Unfortunately, the preconceptions didn’t just affect my childhood; they followed me throughout my life. I have faced awkward encounters where people would assume I couldn’t talk or think for myself, and so they would talk to the able-bodied person accompanying me as if I wasn’t there at all. Past relationships were also affected out of the intervention of parents being overly concerned and disapproving of their child dating a disabled person. And then there were the incidents where my friends have had to come to my defense because others questioned their reasons for even being friends with someone like me. Although these circumstances were hurtful, I’ve come to realize that perhaps people react this way because they don’t know how to deal with somebody who is different, and, the best way they can cope is to avoid the encounter completely.
Sometimes, taking the chance to really get to know someone before formulating an opinion of them, can lead to beautiful experiences. If my old friend from Sunday school class and I hadn’t given each other a chance, we would’ve really missed out on the strong friendship we still share today. I believe in the adage, “never judge a book by its cover”. Everyone has a story that they might be longing for someone to take the time to read. I believe that no matter how different a person may be, everyone deserves to be treated equally.