Last year, actress Gal Gadot became an icon to some when her movie Wonder Woman became the first major mainstream theatrical superhero movie to feature a female protagonist.
Last week, some of the same people who lauded her were far less excited about her tweet in reaction to the death of Stephen Hawking.
“Rest in peace Dr. Hawking. Now you’re free of any physical constraints.. Your brilliance and wisdom will be cherished forever,” she wrote.
The reaction among some was some degree of anger. The post, they said, was ablist. They said it implied that a person confined to a wheel chair can’t live a full life. It implied that those with chronic or disabling illnesses are somehow less than they could be, less than others.
With deep respect to those who crave out amazing lives because of illness or disease, I disagree.
Hawking became what he was both because and in spite of his illness. He’s one of the greatest scientific minds of his era. If not for his ALS, he probably would’ve done something different with his life. But the ALS made it harder to accomplish what he did.
When skiier Amy Purdy finished second in Dancing with the Stars in spite of having no feet, a lot of people were impressed. That she trained while participating in the Winter Paralympics made her accomplishment even more impressive. Yet, in the shadow of that accomplishment, there was a cry from some of disability porn toward those who watched and were awed.
Closer to home (for me, at least), author Laura Hillenbrand suffered from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, while she wrote Seabiscuit and Unbroken. She never actually met Louis Zamperini, the subject of Unbroken because she was housebound. She worked with him via Skype, phone calls, and email.
Zamperini said that she probably did a better job telling his story because she was a prisoner, too, unable to leave her home. When Zamperini died, he willed his Purple Star to her.
In 2015, I was diagnosed with ME. I worked from bed some days and managed to complete a very long and difficult system implementation, then support a system that was so buggy, the manufacturer replaced it with a new product a year later. Looking back, the only reason I got the work done was that I refused not to.
At the time, I didn’t know I would recover. Some days I had to stop and rest on my way to the bathroom. Every weekday morning, I would wake to despair because of what lie in front of me.
I’m a different person because of that experience. My heart softened and my empathy grew. It changed my outlook of the world and it’s still working on my outlook on God–which is continuing to change my outlook on the world.
I figured I’d eventually become bed-ridden. I’d probably lose much of my ability to earn a living. I’d figure something out to stay employed–I knew that much. But that something would be harder than anything I might’ve considered before that.
You wouldn’t have insulted to me to wish I might overcome that condition. I wished it, too. My life wasn’t diminished when by the grace of God, misdiagnosis, or whatever, I slowly recovered from that circumstance.
I accepted whatever was going to happen, but never for a moment did I stop hoping and praying it would change.
The bottom line is that people who achieve with chronic illness or disability are, in fact, amazing. From Dr. Hawking, to Amy Purdy, to a friend of mine whose chronic illness has made her less active than she’d like. Admiring them isn’t disability porn. Wishing them recovery isn’t devaluing them. And accepting them where they are and caring about the person they are is what God commands.
The reaction to Ms. Gadot is far too harsh.