A band of broken heros

As protests go it wasn’t the biggest history has seen.  Nor was it the most violent.

In fact, very little was interesting about the tiny group gathered outside a cinema in Auckland this week except, perhaps, that it was disproportionately full of disabled people.

That’s why I think it would make a great blockbuster.

You see, hidden within the broken exteriors that most movie-goers would have seen are some of the bravest, the strongest, and the most beautiful hearts in our nation.

And this tiny, ramshackle group of protestors threw those bodies full force into a life and death battle. A battle too many able-bodied people can’t be bothered with.

They were protesting the opening of “Me Before You”.  The film is Hollywood’s charming, exquisite, and seductively slick treatise on a subject it apparently sees as a money-spinner; Euthanasia. But that lovely veneer hides a blunt and lethal message: it’s better to be dead than disabled.

Or at least that what the protestors say.

I know because I have a friend who went. To me, he’s a PhD with hefty community involvement, an endless stream of adoring students, a rip-roaring turn of phrase and a sense of humour to match.

To others (“David Seymour” he groans), he is nothing more than an NHI number linked to the cold, hard words “cerebral palsy with chronic pain and spastic hemiplegia”.

Being disabled, he says, is in part cruel and brutal. And there are days he describes as acid. In his words, the griefs that cling to a broken body “will be endless if you let them”.

But that’s not the closing scene of the story as Hollywood so arrogantly thinks.

Not for that little group of protestors and not for the rest of us if we want to keep our humanity.

Because as he points out, disability “calls tenderness and kindness out of people, gives them a chance to show solidarity and decency, and it makes me tough and adaptable.”

“To me, it’s a discipline to recognise the good things–and to learn how to love them,” he says.

How Hollywood thought throwing in the towel was the epitome of bravery is beyond me.

I can’t conceive of greater bravery than to face fear and pain every day of your life, but to keep living it anyway.

In fact, I can’t think of anything stronger than lifting up your weakness and carrying it with you day by day.

And I most certainly can’t think of anything more beautiful than the community of care disability inspires according to my friend.

Perhaps this is part of why we’re friends. Neither of us thinks humanity is brave, beautiful or strong until it runs with open arms towards fear, ugliness and weakness.

Eliminating the weak – unborn or old – just lets fear win at the end of the day.

Somehow, Hollywood sees that choice as honourable and brave. Somehow, it can’t get past people being of no greater value than how well they work.

But as my friend says when we let the fear of disability “melt into an actual person, with joys and griefs attached, suddenly the whole debate shifts”.

Suddenly the best story isn’t inside the cinema; it is shuffling its feet outside in the cold. Suddenly the best of humanity isn’t a slick script but a broken body refusing to back down. Suddenly the most important voice is not the one being paid to speak from a screen, but the quiet one that nobody will give a stage.

Suddenly a small, dishevelled group of disabled protestors are the greatest heroes who ever lived.

This article was originally published on Stuff.co.nz.

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