What Did You Just Call Me?
"On Being a Cripple" is an autobiographical essay by Nancy Mairs. The author was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her late twenties, and has since then lost full use of several limbs. Despite the stigma around the use of the word, Mairs refers to herself as a "cripple". With the use of this word she attempts to accept the reality of her situation without feeling sorry for herself. The author also demands the same of her readers and the people that she meets in her life. Mairs writes to those who wish to learn more about what it is like to live with this debilitating disease and how people react to it. She uses this essay to make a point about how society labels people while telling her story in a manner which cites examples from her life. She describes her life through everyday situations that occur when living with MS. Mairs does not have the same physical abilities that most of us don't think twice about, but she carries on with her life without the need for pity or a new vocabulary that attempts to make her condition seem less severe.
The author writes, "People–crippled or not–wince at the world "cripple", as they do not at "handicapped" or "disabled." (Perhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger." (194) This quote shows the author's strength and sense of humor. These are the two things which allow her to honestly face the truth of her situation as well as how other people react to it. She does not want pity from people who see her limping down the street with her cane, nor does she want them to shy away as though she is some sort of freak. The author asks for the same amount of straight forwardness from those around her that she has about her own situation.
Mairs is always realistic about the hardships that life has handed her. She writes, "Tugging at the fringes of my consciousness always is the terror that people are kind to me only because I'm a cripple." (199) This brings up the emotional side of dealing with a debilitating disease. There are plenty of physical hardships involved with living with MS, including getting used to the chronic fatigue, falling down occasionally, walking with a cane, and needing assistance with everyday tasks. Each day is also an emotional challenge, both from within and by dealing with the people who are forced to interact with a "cripple." The author also writes of the ease of losing ones sense of humor to MS and the hardship that this loss can bring. (196)
Despite all of the problems that living with MS can hold, Mairs remains positive. She does not simply dwell on the negative aspects of her affliction, because there are times when her circumstances become inspirational to the people in her life. Little things like the fact that she can still paint her own nails helps a student to see that she should...