Every year I teach third graders how to use the World Almanac for Kids. They love it! It’s filled with pictures of popular movies, weird trivia, sports facts, and more! One day while flipping through the pages, I came across a list of lesser known holidays. Do a Google search, and you will be amazed at what you find! It would seem that every day of the year has been tagged with a theme. According to some sources, Sunday, August 7th, will be Friendship Day. Wikipedia claims that Friendship Day is a Hallmark Holiday. Still another site claims that the holiday has been moved by order of the United Nations to today, July 30th. At any rate, I’d like to take this opportunity to write a tribute to my friend Aaron Kurrell. We have known each other for at least eight years and we both have cerebral palsy.
Aaron and I first met while eating cafeteria food in the dining hall at St. Cloud State University. Introduced by mutual friends, Aaron and I quickly connected with each other because we both were studying to become educators. At the time, Aaron was pursuing a career path to become an English teacher, and I had dreams of becoming a school library media specialist. Our conversations often centered on our coursework, classmates, and shared perceptions of our professors, not our mutual disability.
I’m usually uneasy at the suggestion that I would really “hit it off” with another person because we both have a disability. I often view having cerebral palsy as a physical characteristic, much like the fact that I have brown hair. I’m not automatically friends with brown-haired people any more than I am automatically friends with people who have CP, but befriending Aaron has been different. We became friends in spite of our common gait, but over the years I have come to appreciate how valuable it is to have someone in my life who personally understands the experience of living with CP. Today I would like to honor Aaron by sharing three things I have learned from him through our friendship.
The first thing I have gleaned from Aaron is a model of of self-confidence. When we met in college, I was struck by the fact that Aaron was so comfortable in the “skin he was in.” At the time, I was quite ashamed of the fact I had CP, and felt I was “above” the need for help or admitting that I had limitations. By stark contrast, Aaron neither wore his disability like a badge of entitlement nor did he walk around defeated by his limitations. Aaron simply accepted the fact that he had cerebral palsy. Without shame or pride, Aaron graciously accepted help when he needed it, and accomplished tasks independently when he didn’t. This attitude inspired me and ultimately helped me to become more accepting of myself.
Another thing I have learned from Aaron is that sometimes it is helpful to talk to another person with CP when interpreting awkward social situations. I’ll never forget the night I was at a party where someone watched me walk across the room and then exclaimed, “What are you, limping!?” Not sure what to do, I stammered, “I have cerebral palsy.” He replied, “I’m sorry.” I responded, “That’s okay, I have a very mild case, so a lot of people think I’ve been in a car accident or had an injury. It’s an honest mistake.”
“No, I’m sorry you have that.”
Suddenly, I was floored and furious. No one had ever offered me pity in my life! As soon as I got home, I called Aaron and lamented about the evening’s events. It was comforting to talk to someone who truly understood my dilemma. Over the years, Aaron and I have talked about many things including our shared startle reflexes, hatred of risers, long periods of standing, and stairs without railings. We both can’t keep our eyes open in photographs and struggle to walk while carrying items in our hands. We’ve both had public and private encounters with people who assume the need to pray for us for healing from cerebral palsy without asking our permission, and both park in “rock star” parking spaces. Aaron has more guts than I do when it comes to online dating—he doesn’t tell his dates that he has CP until he meets them, I like to tell them ahead of time so they’re not surprised. (This may be a gender difference; I’d love to hear reader’s opinions!) These sound like quirky little nuances, and they are, but when I talk to Aaron about the little things that makes us different, it makes me feel normal.
Finally, Aaron has taught me patience. One difference between Aaron and me is that Aaron walks with crutches. This is insignificant except that when we walk together we have to move slowly so we don’t trip each other. I’ve also noticed that transitioning from sitting to standing positions takes a little more time with crutches; it’s okay not to rush when getting out of a car or standing to leave church.
In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted John Ortberg was advised that if you want to be a spiritually healthy person, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life” (p. 76). He even developed an evaluation tool to determine if you have what he calls, “Hurry Sickness.” You can print out a questionnaire in PDF format. I tend to be someone who rushes through life whenever I can, oblivious to the world around me. When I’m with Aaron, I remember to appreciate the moment, take a deep breath, and observe my surroundings. Slowing down helps me to notice people, listen carefully, and be more fully aware and present. Ultimately, Aaron has helped me to become a better friend. Happy Friendship Day, Aaron. I’m blessed to know you!
Ortberg, J. (2002). The life you’ve always wanted. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.