When the girls arrived on the weekend we asked them if they’d like to be part of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade that would be happening on Sunday. There wasn’t even a breath of hesitation. “YES!!” And then the talk was immediately of costumes and we added into the plans a trip to the dollar store to find stuff for everyone to wear.
As we browsed around their excitement began to grow. They love parades. Because my home agency, Vita Community Living Services, participates in both the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Pride Parade, they’ve been in a lot of parades. This would be Ruby’s second time in the Pat’s Parade and Sadie’s first, they are more Pride girls. I watched them going through the dollar store stuff and weighing out what they’d like to wear in the parade with pleasure but also with a tightening knot in my stomach.
Putting myself on display, for people to take pictures of, for people to really see, is difficult. The inherent permission that you give people to look right at you, to take pictures of you, when you participate in a parade is something that I’m wildly uncomfortable with.
I have wrestled shame to the ground several times in my life. But, shame is a worthy opponent and always manages to get up again. The voices of shame appear in my mind: they are going to laugh at you, they are going to be disgusted by you, they are going to mock you, they are going to hurt you, hurt you, hurt you. As the parade grows closer, the voices get louder, meaner, more controlling. They take over my appetite, they take over my ability to think clearly, they take away my ability to hear others and be fully with people.
Now as we are walking towards the parade gathering area to join with others in Vita, they are screaming in my ears. But, Ruby and Sadie are bouncing with excitement. At one point, Sadie, so excited by being in the parade shouts to Joe and I, “I LOVE THIS!” At another point, Ruby runs over and gives us each a hug. They are happy.
They are happy to be there.
They are happy to meet all the staff and members of Vita.
They are happy to be part of the group.
Then, when the parade starts, they are dancing! They do jigs and twirl each other around. And I notice, that I’ve been so involved with the ‘hellos’ to everyone at Vita and watching the kids get ready to hit the parade route, that I hadn’t noticed. The voices had given up.
I was here.
I would march.
I would publicly be fat, publicly be disabled, I would be purposefully on display.
But shame had been silenced, and, as always happens when shame is silenced, a little voice, the one belonging to pride speaks up.
“I have a right to be here.”
“I am a prideful fat and disabled man.”