I can’t

Cooper's Rock in West Virginia rewards the hiker/climber with beautiful vistas.
Cooper’s Rock in West Virginia is challenging. At this point, I can’t get to the top.

By Teresa Swartz Roberts

15. Copyright 2017

            I can’t.

            When I was 20, I didn’t know the meaning of that phrase. The posters hanging in my dorm room at Concord College urged me to keep dreaming, keep trying, keep becoming. I was ready for anything.

            I say I can’t now. A lot has happened in the last 36 years that taught me what those words mean. But, honestly, it wasn’t until recently that I learned that I can’t doesn’t always mean what I think it means.

            Last week I watched a TV scene that showed a middle-schooler participating in an “I can’t” ceremony. Each student read aloud an I can’t statement (I can’t do algebra or I can’t do sports, for example), crumpled up the piece of paper, and buried it in a communal hole in the schoolyard. The point was that we need to trash negative messages about ourselves, and I thought it was a great idea.

Overcoming obstacles is sometimes not worth the price.

            The problem is that getting rid of those messages doesn’t make algebra or sports any easier. Overcoming obstacles is sometimes not worth the price. I decided long ago that the reward of thrill rides at the fair is not worth testing my fear of heights or my tendency to puke while spinning.

            Sometimes the I can’t is out of our hands. If my legs don’t work someday, I can’t walk. If my eyes don’t work someday, I can’t see. I guess the trick is to realize that we can redefine our wants and needs. If I can’t walk, I can move with the help of people and technology. If I can’t see, I may still be able to experience the world in satisfying ways.

            The Teresa I used to identify as tried to help people. Since Parkinson’s, I have had to get used to a new version of myself. There are things I can do, and there are things I can’t. Over the last few years, the list of things I can’t do has gotten longer, then shortened again through the magic of meds and therapies. There are many things I can still do, and I am grateful for each one.

            I say I can’t when I really mean that it’s not worth the cost to try. I say I can’t when I’m focusing on the process rather than the result. What I have to figure out is what I can’t means. I can’t live without disabilities, but I can live.

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