Thursday, January 27, 2011


Thirty years after he ran his Marathon of Hope THE HOPE LADY read Terry fox His Story by Leslie Scrivener. Thirty years, you say? Here we have a man who explicitly named an event with hope in the title, an event that went viral and raised 400 million dollars so far. Here we have a man with a disability who’s a hope hero to billions of people. Thirty years went by before THE HOPE LADY took the time to read a book about him? You have to wonder about it even if you make allowances for the fact that THE HOPE LADY didn’t start her explicit work with hope until 1995. She had, after all, been a counsellor keenly interested in disability issues long before Terry’s 1980 run. What then, are we to make of her neglect of this iconic Canadian hope hero?
I suppose she was a bit cynical, a bit jaded, a little bit bored by the whole affair. Few icons were as little in need of one more fan. Few stories were as well known. You didn’t have to make an effort to know a little about Terry fox. Thirty years after his death his name was still a household word. In a world of abundant unexplored stories, that story didn’t seem like a story that needed reading. THE HOPE LADY REMEMBERED the mind-numbingly dull second-by-second media coverage of the rumours and truths, indistinguishable from one another, that passed for news in the last days of his life. That was enough Terry Fox to last her for 30 years.
That said, it was probably inevitable that THE HOPE LADY would get around to being interested. It would take an army of bean counters to count the number of counselling clients and audience members who have mentioned his name and told her part of his story when she asked them who comes to mind when they think of hope. He’s the perfect hope symbol after all, with the perfect hope story. a person with a disability who does something extraordinary, meets tragedy and leaves a legacy of generosity and inspiration. Hope stories just don’t get any better than that. So, with nothing better to do on an airplane bound for Toronto, she sighed with resignation, dug earphones out of her bag, and powered up the audio book player. Better late than never, THE HOPE LADY would make the time to read about this hope hero.
The time invested offered greater rewards than she had expected. To her delight, the stereotyped story that had for so long lulled her into apathy was soon embellished by the facts. With a journalist’s acumen, Leslie scrivener had set up the story by addressing a question THE HOPE LADY had never thought to ask: What was Terry Fox like before he got cancer? BEYOND ALL THE HOPEFUL THINGS FOX DID, IT WAS THIS ANGLE THAT MADE IT WORTH THE READ.
To put it mildly, Terry Fox was not your average teen-age Canadian Joe. In a sentence, he was highly focussed, single-minded, goal-directed and bent on achievement. Given his personality, there’s no telling what a healthier Terry might have done. What we know is what he did given the challenge that was presented. Acting in character, under attack by a devastating disease, he conceived a larger-than-life project, defied the wishes of his family, expected more of others than they had originally intended to give and justified the whole thing by ignoring medical advice. So utterly outrageous was the idea that The Canadian Cancer Society failed utterly to plan for its consequences. Things reached crisis proportions when the organization found itself unable to muster enough work hours to count the money that began to pour in. after that, all sensible bets were off. Nobody knew what to expect. The Terry Fox Foundation Reports that more than 400 million dollars has been raised for cancer research by people whose inspiration came from the name of Terry Fox.
There’s a hope lesson that lies beyond the stereotypical Terry Fox narrative. There is a cue that can help us understand why some of the things we commonly say to people with disabilities miss their mark. We assume a pattern, denial, despair, anger, struggle, acceptance. On that foundation rests a common model of rehabilitation, complete with assumptions about what must be happening—spending too much time in denial, refusing to accept, etc. These ideas often make sense. That’s why we repeat them.
But here’s something else to think about. Most disabilities are given to ordinary people. Give a disability to an ordinary person, and you’ll get an ordinary response, denial, despair, anger, struggle, acceptance, achievement if you’re lucky. Give a disability to an utterly extraordinary person and nothing you say to frame that person’s behaviour in terms of the normal response to a disability will make any sense at all. And lately, with that in mind, in an utterly unpredictable turn of events, THE HOPE LADY is sometimes heard telling the Terry Fox story.

No comments: