We often think of some sort of revolutionary change, no matter how small, as being the result of revolutionary ideas. We think of them as things that don’t happen under any other circumstances except the extraordinary. I don’t think that’s true. Sometimes, all it takes to institute change is a willingness to think deeply about what we’re taught, and an unwillingness to do anything but accept the right answer. There was once a little boy who believed the very same thing. What follows, is not my story, but his. A homage to a little revolutionary.
The year is 1989. The season is fall. There is a little boy born with a condition called cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that in his case was caused by a slight brain hemorrhage shortly after birth. This little boy was born early, but born smart. He used a wheelchair to get around, but he was mostly spoiled because for the longest time, he was small enough for mostly anyone to carry them around wherever he wanted to go. But this particular year, he started the first grade.
He was a particularly precocious little boy, who had a randomly peculiar obsession with two things; all things outerspace, and the dinosaurs. As such, he was an advanced reader which meant he was likely to be an advanced thinker. This little boy was always getting into a particular kind of trouble; he wanted to play with kids that weren’t in wheelchairs like him, because he saw how much fun they were having. So there it began, a series of days sneaking around the campus of the local elementary school to find a way to the other side of the playground where there were normal kids playing. Not that he didn’t particularly think of himself as normal, but he knew he was somehow different than those around him.
One day at recess, he began what would be a long string of troublesome bouts with school administration. They usually followed the same pattern; the little boy, named Abel, knew the school really well, and he knew there was a rule against the people in the special ed program playing with the kids on the other side of the playground, “the normal kids.” He would look out to the other side of the playground, day after day. He would see these kids having so much fun, and he just wanted to join in. So he would wait until no one was looking, and he would take several alternating routes to get to the other side of the playground without being seen. One day, while he was playing with the kids on the other side of the playground, he was seen. He was caught. He thought it was over. And he was extremely sad… After all, he had done this time and time again, and he had gotten away with it, he played with the other kids on the other side of the playground, and he found out they were having just as much fun as he thought.
A few days after being caught, two of the school administrators came to Abel’s classroom. Their names were Mr. Price, and Dr. Mah. Abel didn’t like Mr. Price very much, he thought Mr. Price was far too rigid and had a stick up his ass, but he liked Dr. Mah. He thought Dr. Mah was very reasonable, and very nice. Dr. Mah knew this, so Dr. Mah decided to be the first one to speak.
“So Abel, why did you go to the other side of the playground? You know it’s against the rules.”
“I don’t know.” Abel replied
Mr. Price chimed in, “you know it’s against the rules, there has to be a reason you disobeyed.”
“I wanted to play with the other kids; I wanted to make some new friends.”
Dr. Mah paused pensively, and then said, “look Abel, it’s not against the rules because we think there’s something bad about you wanting to make new friends, but you have to understand that if something happened to you, we are responsible.”
Abel understood, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. He thought for a few minutes, Mr. Price then interrupted him. “Well, do you have anything to say?”
“As a matter of fact I do, Mr. Price.”
“It’s black history month. And you taught us about Dr. Martin Luther King. The way I understood it, Martin Luther King went through all that so that one day, people could be friends with whoever they wanted. He wanted to end this thing called segregation; it was where people had to be kept separate because they were different. How is that different from me wanting to play with the kids on the other side of the playground?”
Dr. Mah and Mr. Price looked stunned. They never thought of it that way. To them, it was simply a matter of insurance and liability. They were only trying to keep people safe, and avoid lawsuits. But they conceded the boy’s point, and they agreed that they would think about what Abel had said. A few days later, they came in to announce that there was no longer a rule against playing on the other side of the playground. And that over the coming months, they would train the playground monitors to watch out for certain things that could be potentially dangerous for disabled children. Abel went on to make many friends on both sides of the playground. He had changed his little corner of the world.
Today, I more frequently go by the name Ron, Ronald, or Captain Gimpy. I’m 29, and this remains one of the most formative experiences of my life. The perception of disabled people in our society continues to be something that I strive to improve. But this is where it all started, it all started on the playground. And to be perfectly honest with you guys, I thought I’d lost that stubborn fire that caused me to keep fighting. But the truth is, it never left. I had to take this opportunity to say thank you to my younger self, in this case, you’re much wiser than I could’ve ever hoped to be.