For the first time in a long time I'm listening to Shackles by Mary Mary. And in the moment I am transported back, not to the year of its release (2000) but Summer 2005. A band at the festival we are at are covering the song and I am hovering at the rear of the massive tent containing 8000 sweaty, dancing teenagers with a small wriggly child who is determined to crawl underfoot and get trodden on. We have retreated to the small area near the exit designated exclusively for buggy pushers and wheelchair users. The whole tent is shaking and I can feel the bass in my chest. My vocal range doesn't naturally include some of the notes, but I'm singing it loudly anyway, bouncing around with small wriggly child, secure in the knowledge that that no one can hear me sing or him squalk.
I gradually become aware of a girl nearby and try not to stare in her direction. She is a wheelchair user and looks like she has never walked. Her legs are painfully thin with no muscle definition or bulk in the normal places. Her arms are contracted at the elbows and her fingers are curled in on themselves. Like me she is singing along and like me she probably doesn't sound anything like Mary Mary.
But unlike me she is giving the song her all. Seriously- she is going mental. Her whole body, as limited and deformed as it is, shakes and rocks and lurches from side to side. She is whooping and laughing as well as singing. Her carer- a young woman in her 20's, is clearly wrestling to keep the wheelchair and its occupant stable and is standing on the anti-tip bars at the back of the wheelchair in an effort to keep the whole thing from toppling over.
Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance
I just wanna praise you
I just wanna praise you
You broke the chains now I can lift my hands
And I'm gonna praise you
I'm gonna praise you
OK - I am staring more in their direction than anywhere else now. I can't help it. The disparity between the girl's physical condition and the words coming out her mouth are intriguing and puzzling and humbling and I feel strangely jealous. My chest shakes with silent sobbing that has nothing to do with the bass or the wriggly toddler kicking my ribs in his struggle to be released to onto the floor.
She is actually free.
The wheelchair. Her contracted muscles. The uniformly thin legs. Her crooked fingers- they are all a façade. Her soul is free. Her body is lying.
Honestly- what does disability look like? And why do we choose to define it so narrowly? And one day, when we've upgraded to super enhanced post resurrection bodies- what will our earthly shells look like to us? Will we be all like Can you believe we used to walk around in those things?... No airborne or telepathic or teleporting facilities... Connecting to the world around us with only 5 senses- each operating within such a limited spectrum... HOW did we manage??!
One day the finest athletes of the world will be looked upon as more disabled and limited as the semiconscious bodies that lie in every ICU department bed.
One day the healthiest, strongest and most desirable homo sapiens the world has ever known will be seen as imperfect, wounded and tainted by sin.
And I'll be free. Like the girl in the wheelchair.