The Common Human Struggle: Belonging

web_daniel_barnhartRecently, I was blessed with the opportunity to interview Ken Medema. Even though our disabilities are vastly different, our stories intertwined on several levels. I am qualified to give you a look into the hidden world of disabilities because I was born 26 weeks premature. This led to hypoxia in my brain which led to me being diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. At first, you might perceive people with disabilities as different than what I like to call “regular people.” In reality, the same struggles that plague “us” affect all humanity. We all struggle with the feeling of wanting to belong and finding ourselves. We all have the need and desire to be loved.

Sitting down with Ken Medema, a blind man, reminded me we all share a lot of the same struggles. Sometimes I consider myself to be a pioneer discovering a new territory. I feel like I am in this alone and I forget about the other people that came before me. Talking to him, I realized that most of the struggles in his life were the same struggles in my life. For example, when I was a kid, I used to hate doing things with other people with disabilities because most of the people I came in contact with were mentally challenged, whereas I was physically challenged. Until I met Ken, I thought I was kind of an enigma. Ken Medema also struggled connecting with other people with disabilities. When he was a kid he went home and told his mom he hated blind people. He also said the blind kids would rock back and forth. In Ken’s words, like me, he realized “he was more privileged than them.” Mainly because of his intellectual abilities and a supportive family, he realized his own prejudices prevented him from connecting even with other blind people.

I also asked him if he ever worried about finding a wife. “Oh gosh! Yes, oh, of course absolutely!” he replied. “I dated girls, but I knew, in the depths of my heart, they were dating me because it was a temporary thing and I wasn’t the person they would ever want.” When Medema found his wife, it still was not the ending Hollywood portrays so well. “We knew that we loved each other in kind of a Christian brother and sister way” he explains, “and we knew that it was God’s will that we be married. We didn’t have the romance thing going. We didn’t have the ‘Oh I fell in love with this girl. She’s everything I ever wanted. I can’t wait to get my hands on her. I’m just so madly in love . . .’ We didn’t have that going on. What we had going on was ‘God wants this.’ No, that’s a bad start. But over 40 years, we’ve developed the next best thing to romance. We never had the romance. We’ve developed the recognition that I don’t want to live my life without you.” This means a lot to me because it shows that I could find love as well. To this day, I am filled with self-doubt if somebody could actually love me, if I am marriage material. This quotation shows me that marriage is possible for a disabled man, and it is not a far off dream, but it is something that could actually happen.

It is human nature to be different, to want to stand out from the crowds, but then we realize, regardless of who we are or what we go through, we fit in with some group whether we want to or not. Ken and I were so focused on our lives and our disabilities we thought we were special and unique. But the truth is all the trials Ken and I went through are the same trials that affect each one of us each and every day. We all want to feel loved. We all want to feel like we belong. We could not see the struggles that other people with disabilities had as well. And just because we are more fortunate than other people with disabilities, that does not mean we cannot connect with them in other ways. I do not think I fully understood the importance of walking a mile in another person’s shoes until I met Ken. So before we judge each other for our differences, let us remember; we are all united by one common factor: we are humans.

-Daniel Barnhart, Staff Writer

Categories: Opinion


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