By Teresa Swartz Roberts
15. Copyright 2017
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.
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.