Our society has lost its way. This is my humble opinion, but something that I really feel. We’re obsessed with living in a very unhealthy, very unsustainable way. We call it independence. It’s an illusion, and a harmful one.
Before industrialization, we were probably more aware of our dependency on others1. When you get your milk directly from the man with the cow, you understand your dependency on that man for milk. When you get your clothing from the family that weaves and sews the cotton, you understand your dependency on that family for your clothing. In the modern world, though, we are absolutely obsessed with independence. We understand that our children are dependent on their families, but there’s a sell-by date on that one. With pretty much everyone else, we expect rugged independence. The government sells the myth of ‘the taxpayer’, who shouldn’t be paying to meet anyone else’s needs. We’re all sold the myth of ‘the life course’, in which we have a career (a highly successful one, of course), meet all our own financial needs, and can retire comfortably at 65.
Except… we’re starting to understand that these are just that – myths. And not always positive ones. In fact, they’re particularly harmful for many people who will never meet these exacting standards. These are the myths of modern capitalist democracy, which doesn’t have much room for community.
I think I’ve written before about how it feels to be at the mercy of others for mobility, access, even food and drink. It’s not nice. But, for many of us, it’s the reality. When spiritual teachers ask us to consider our relationships with our bodies, some of us have to face head-on the fact that our not-always-functioning bodies (or minds) will always be dependent on the bodies (or minds) of others.
I’m working on my relationship with my body, and this is the biggest barrier I’m facing. I’m happy to accept that I’m a bit overweight, that I’m short, and that my ears stick out! These are funny little quirks that make me, me. But when it comes to accepting that I’ll always have severe chronic pain, or that I’ll always need mobility aids of some kind, or that I’ll always have social anxiety, or that I’ll always be fighting with the disordered inner world of Asperger’s, it gets really hard to accept. And it gets harder when I realise that, because of these and other things, I’ll always be dependent on others.
I think I’ve mentioned beore that it’s not fashionable, in the disability rights world, to talk about dependency. And yet, it’s the reality. We all face it, no matter what our physical or mental condition. But some of us are a lot more aware of it than others. And you know what? That’s a good thing. We need to reclaim an awareness of our own dependency on each other.
So here I am, breaking the taboo. I need you. Maybe you’re employed as my carer, and I need you to help me eat or shower. Maybe you’re my friend, and I need you to remember me even if I’ve disappeared for a while because I’m ill. I may need you to reconsider the venues you hold your meetings in, or the things that you do, if you want me to be a part of your community. Occasionally I may need you to do something that makes me feel very vulnerable, that requires extreme trust: to push my wheelchair. I’ll try not to cry when I put my life into your hands that way.
And, you know what else? You need me. You’ve asked me to go for a drink with you when you’re feeling low. You’ve accepted offers from me of job magic and healing prayer. You need me to plan that ritual, to give that talk, to do that research, to organize that meeting, to write that article… And I’m absolutely delighted to do all these things. They help me to remember that I am not useless, that I have a part in my community. But these things are easy to forget about, easy to miss, easy to let drop off the radar, when you’re focusing on what people do for each other. My role isn’t as flashy as his, or as active as hers.
So please don’t forget that my role, even though it may be different from yours, is real, important and vital. I need you, and you need me.
We all move through the twisting branches of the Xartus. My Wyrd is closely tied with yours. We are inter-dependent, and we are a community. I believe that, at our core, we know this. What we do with that awareness, though – that’s the question – for me, at least.
 If you want to read more about disabled people in pre-modern, pre-industrialised society, and how their situation may have been preferable to today, I recommend Vic Finkelstein’s article on the subject, Attitudes and Disabled People. It’s long, but really interesting.