On March 26, I did what millions of others around the world did: I watched the 72nd annual Academy Awards show on television. When the nominations for short documentary were announced, my attention was piqued. One of the documentaries was titled "King Gimp." "Gimp" is a name used affectionately among the disabled community. Being one myself, I was interested to hear about a film that had been made about another person with a disability.
"And the Oscar goes to . . . ." Suddenly I see this guy with cerebral palsy falling out of his wheelchair in front of millions! I was mortified. He was shaming me at the Oscars, and I wasn't even there. A fellow gimp out of control!
Then I stopped myself. "Wait a minute. How is this any different than what Roberto Benigni did last year when he won?"
"Oh, yeah, but Benigni was in control of his body, this guy isn't."
But I don't think Benigni's body made him jump over people's heads and scare them half to death. It was Benigni's spontaneous reaction in the excitement of the moment of winning an Oscar! So why couldn't that be the same for this guy, Dan Keplinger? Benigni jumps over people's heads, this guy falls on the floor. He was excited! A documentary he wrote about himself had just won an Oscar--that's something to get excited about.
But I wasn't satisfied with my answer. "Why didn't he strap himself into his chair so he wouldn't fall out of it?" I wondered.
Was I suggesting that he "confine" himself to his wheelchair? That might not have worked out so well. Instead of falling out of his chair, he might have toppled it over himself, proving to the world that he was indeed confined to his wheelchair.
From what I saw, he didn't hurt himself or cause injury to anybody else. No, it may not have been dignified behavior, but spontaneity is all about being in the moment.
Well, this dialogue in my head was going nowhere so I decided to look at the show again. Thank God the camera panned back to him. Keplinger was back in his chair. His eyes were glowing! To me he was the handsomest man in the room at that moment. I hadn't seen the documentary; I didn't know if it was politically correct. But I decided that I wasn't going to let my prejudices get in the way of Keplinger's moment to shine. I was proud of my gimp brother.
But that wasn't the highlight of the evening for me. That came when Hilary Swank accepted her Oscar as best actress. Her final comment was, "I pray that someday we will not only accept our differences, but celebrate them."
These are powerful words. I dream that some day the world at large will celebrate the disabled community's differences. I realize that if I really own these words myself, perhaps I could help make that dream a reality.
Peggy Oliveri is a freelance writer living in Long Beach. She can be reached at dacha@Earthlink.net.