by Diane Teichert
Until my stroke four years ago, at a very healthy 61 years of age, I did not know what perseverance was. Recently, in talking with my greatly supportive spouse, I referred to needing perseverance. “I wish you wouldn’t use that word.” Why? “It sounds so, well, severe. Why not say persistence instead?”
This reminded me of a recreation therapist in the hospital who had offered me the chance to try a favorite activity of my past, gardening, so that I could experience how adaptations would make it still possible, even though I was now hemiplegic, with paralysis on the left side of my body. I told her I would try anything offered to me. She remarked, “Yes, you’re rigid that way.” Rigid?
Sometimes our circumstances call for something more severe than mere persistence. After eight weeks of acute rehab hospitalization, and intense love and support of family, friends, congregations, neighbors and colleagues, I had recovered bodily functions and the ability to talk, read, dress, bathe, and walk with a quad cane and an ankle-foot orthotic, but had not regained any use of my left arm or hand. I wear an arm sling during the day and a hand splint at night.
Some of my friends who kept me company at the hospital thought my physical therapist was mean to me, but she knew she had to push me hard in those first weeks. It was important that I try to do what I could no longer do, so that my brain’s plasticity could develop new pathways for communicating with my muscles before too much time passed. She was severe, but not unkind. She taught me to persevere. I loved her for it.
Yes, I still get very discouraged by all I cannot do, and often hear negative thoughts in my mind. But since my stroke I’ve gotten to know other people who are physically disabled whose abilities are expected to decline (whereas mine are likely to remain as they are now), and some who have never been able-bodied and can’t realistically expect to improve. In these people I have found inspiration and courage to persevere to DO what I can do and BE who I can be.
Even beyond that, my own disability has awakened me to how much remains to be done in addressing the ableism that pervades our society. Recently, one hero, Rev. Theresa Ines Soto, introduced me to the ableism inherent in the use of the word “lame.” As in, “That’s so lame!” and “What a lame excuse!” In those expressions, it means “weak.” Yet now that I am lame and know others who are even more so, I know we are among the strongest people there are. To do almost anything at all, we must persevere, sometimes rigidly. We are hardly weak.
Consider how much perseverance is required for people to endure—and thrive—in other oppressive human realities, such as racism, poverty, exploitation, violence, etc. When we view the world through this lens we can see clearly how all people must join and persist together if we are to eliminate barriers to a full life for all. To persist is to never give up. Perseverance is, well, to persist severely. May we be so!