Reviewer: robert dorroh from Sonora, CA United States Nancy Mairs, with devastating honesty, chronicles life as a cripple (her choice of word) in poignant essays in "Waist High in the World."
Beset with multiple sclerosis and bouts with clinical and situational depression, she offsets these stumbling blocks with joy, candor, eloquence, and cultural and political insights. It is a book for everybody, not just the disabled, for it challenges our fears, cultural hangups and citizenship: "The more perspectives that can be brought to bear on human experience, even from the slant of a wheelchair or a hospital bed, or through the ears of a blind person or the fingers of someone who is deaf, the richer that experience becomes." She attacks the stereotype that cripples must be passive and unfailingly polite in a culture that doesn't want to deal with them: "Beyond cheerfulness and patience, people don't expect much of a cripple's character."
Pondering her husband and caretaker George's battle with cancer, she offers a balanced look at suicide in the face of his death. Though she has attempted suicide "more than once," she questions the right-to-die movement, which extolls "rational" suicide: "Since hopelessness is a distinctive symptom of depression, which is an emotional disorder, actions carried out in a despairing state seem to me intrinsically irrational. This last time I clung to shreds of reason, which saved me." Still, she sees suicide as a possibility: "I want to be the one in charge of my life, including its end."
Why should society pay for the misfortunes of others? people ask. Because it's what human beings do: take care of one another, Mairs says, adding that it's the government's role to ensure that its citizens are entitled to the pursuit of happiness. Mairs notes that the abled-bodied should aim to preserve the dignity of the disabled. This takes in seeing them as sexual beings: ... "The general assumption, even among those who might be expected to know better, is that people with disabilities are out of the sexual running."
As a paraplegic, I admire her advocacy on my behalf. I admire her more, however, for her willingness to work toward the betterment of our society through a rare and gifted intelligence.