Do These Shoes Match?
I always wanted to be a lawyer. Though my parents teased that I chose this ambition because I argued with literally everyone about everything, I had different ideas. I wanted to be an attorney because I could think of nothing more fascinating than helping to solve problems for people who were dealing with real conflicts. As a college student, I interned with a hippie lawyer who defended a local motorcycle gang in New Haven. As a law student, I studied comparative legal systems, and as a fledgling attorney, dove into the fast pace of the culture of litigation. And I loved all of it-the strategy, the research and interpretation of legal precedent, and more than anything else, helping my clients resolve their challenges and move on with their lives.
I never lost sight of that burning desire I had felt as a child — to be part of the answer to questions that had puzzled generations. But I never dreamed that one of those questions, for me would be:
“Do these shoes match?”
Yes, that question is one I ask myself ever day as I dress, since my diagnosis of progressive blindness at the age of 26. But what I did not realize was that a question like this can have impact on issues or people other than me.
You see, it took me quite some time to understand that those simple, everyday frustrations that come with the challenges of being a person with a disability in America might have relevance beyond me. As a person who is blind, I ask myself that silly little question — ‘Do my shoes match?’ along with many others that people who are not blind likely never consider.
What temperature is that oven turned to? What are the headlines in today’s newspaper? And even questions about those I love around me-how has the dear face of my child changed over time? I often joke with those around me that everyone looks the same to me as they did 40 years ago when I started to lose my vision, but the truth is that I do miss being able to see my family and friends, read the paper, dress with confidence.
In many ways, however, these little questions now seem to be as relevant to the community in which I live, this America of fast changing morals and values, as they have been to me. The burning questions of what America is today, the values we cherish, the freedom that we stand for — these are the big questions of the day as we see President Trump take the nation’s policy in directions we never anticipated. But to me, those small questions inform the larger ones.
Everyone confronts challenges in their lives, whether or not they are related to physical disability. We all ask ourselves, every day, those small questions, and resolve the issues that allow us to carry on as engaged workers, family members, and citizens. We do so to cope with the challenges that we each must face daily and our answers facilitate how we navigate society.
Those issues are the distinguishing features that shape our identities while we are part of the larger community. So while those small questions can be mundane, frustrating, and part of our daily routine, they are still real. And for each of us, they are and make us different. This is where the small questions help inform the larger philosophy, our ideology and the values we respect and stand for. Do we approach that nagging little question of whether the shoes match with patience? Maybe humor? Do we look down on people or include a person with a disability in the decisions, small or large? Seek opinions even from persons we believe may somehow be different than we are?
I believe that we must all work hard to answer our personal challenges, often in our own unique way. I confront my blindness by using a cane, others use dogs, or work with companions. Some blind people rely on readers to describe written material, others, like me, use auditory assistive technology. As with any challenge, including those legal problems I was privileged to work to resolve, there are many pathways to independence and many alternatives that can provide a satisfactory resolution. The way we deal with those questions makes up the larger view that forms our own personal philosophy. And that philosophy drives our values and ideology.
It is our respect for these differences that brings us all to the table, now in these times of great uncertainty in the United States and around the world. So is it not looking at the way we cope with those small questions that best prepares us to make the contributions to our community that help to shape the answers to the biggest questions in our lives.
Addressing those small questions together points us in the direction of the America whose values we treasure. For me, those values include respect for dignity for us all, freedom of choice, and the opportunity to engage fully regardless of whether or not we agree on the answers to the small questions.
Whether or not my shoes match, whether or not I resemble the rest of my community, have similar attributes or experiences, I continue to believe that I have opinions, ideas and values that add something to the American landscape. The America that I so deeply respect is one that embraces, values and respects the contributions of us all. My America includes every one of us, regardless of our gender, race, age or disability. Our America is a place where, regardless of whether we are sighted or blind, we have the same opportunities, for which we are equally considered. Our America includes every one of us who wishes to make the world a more peaceful, responsible, and inclusive environment that is tolerant of all differences and abilities, physical or otherwise. To me, those differences make our lives richer, give our contributions more meaning, and lead to a brighter future for the next generation.
So next time our paths cross, if you notice that my shoes do not match, please do me a favor. Instead of pointing that out, consider joining the ranks. Make sure your shoes don’t match, either!
Support the value in our differences, by not only making a difference, but being one! Or better yet, let’s all just throw our shoes in a pile-so that we can move freely and unhindered to the America that stands for inclusion, equality, and independence where we contribute our best arguments to justice and freedom.