Money – some believe that it is the root of all evil. But, it is definitely something none of us can do without. For me, it has become the source of many of my fears, anxieties, frustrations and nightmares – fueled by the fact that I am at the mercy of others – physically and financially – to maintain my present lifestyle. I am a spoilt brat. I know. I am one of the privileged few to live an independent lifestyle with 24 hour care – a life that most other quadriplegics can barely imagine.
The epitome of achievement and success for somebody like me, who is paralysed from the neck down, is defying society’s preconceived ideas and ignorance by living an independent life. But, this autonomy and lifestyle comes at great financial (and personal) cost. I dream about having a real job – again – so that I can support myself and have the peace of mind that I will not land up in some sort of institution someday.
Somehow, society has conditioned us me into believing that working to earn money will give our my life meaning and purpose. Thus, I have spent many hours over the years scanning for job opportunities in the employment classifieds – fighting to preserve my sense of self-worth. Ironically, all the money on the entire planet cannot give me back what I really want – the use of my arms and legs – but it certainly can help make my life a whole lot easier and far more pleasurable.
I never had the courage to actually apply for a job – until late last year. This was probably due to fear of more rejection. Perhaps it was also a reluctance to face the reality that society labels me disabled which, in my mind, translates to useless. I feel as if I have spent the last twelve years trying to prove my worth and trying to convince everybody (and possibly even myself) that I can and will do anything that anybody else can do.
For the first time since my accident I sent in my CV and actually applied for a job – albeit tongue-in-cheek – thinking that I had nothing to lose. After all, the position was created by the disability alliance and preference would be given to a person with a disability.
I nearly fell off my chair when I made it onto the shortlist of candidates and was invited for an interview.
I was not the only one who was surprised. When I told people that I had applied for a job and had made it onto the shortlist their reaction was one of astonishment – once again confirming my beliefs on their assumptions that it was impossible for someone like me to work and get paid for it. What kind of work can you do? Helloooo Tracy you can only move your head. A close friend of mine responded by saying hmmm… what job is that? Phone sex?
Sheesh, I wished I’d thought of that idea myself a long time ago. I could have earned a fortune by now.
We screeched with laughter as we imagined the picture of my care assistant holding the phone to my ear whilst I was trying get some randy old bugger to wank himself on the other end of the line.
Anyway, although I knew that it was highly unlikely that I would be successful in getting the job, especially since I was not willing to relocate to Johannesburg, I decided to go for the interview anyway – with the intention of convincing them that I could do the job just as well from a home office in Nelspruit. Besides, I had nothing to lose but rather much to gain. I didn’t want to live with the regret that I didn’t try and persevere until the bitter end.
Despite not getting the job, it did wonders for my morale. There is reason to celebrate when somebody like me is given an opportunity for employment when the rest of the world is suffering under the duress of a worldwide economic recession – where many people are being retrenched and losing their jobs every single day. Many of my close friends have been affected and are facing tough personal and financial challenges as a result. This scares me because I am dependent on many of those friends. When something goes wrong in their lives it has a direct effect on me.
Applying for the job and going for the interview gave me renewed self-confidence and it gave me the privilege of recognizing my potential of making a difference to this world in my own unique way. It taught me that it takes guts and courage to expose my vulnerability and display my disability for public scrutiny. I recognize the need to share my reality and my truths with the world in order to create an awareness which in turn gives me the power to change mindsets about disability. I cannot change my reality but I can change the eyes that see my reality.
But, most importantly, it gave me hope – for me and my future. After all, what is life without hope? Now, I also have the privilege of being able to reflect on the past twelve years with new eyes. And, I have come to the conclusion that I have never stopped working.
I learned my work ethic from my dad and this probably explains my own need and desire to work. My dad has always worked – long and hard – all of his life. He taught me to honour my responsibilities and commitments – financial and personal. Dad has been on a rocky road financially with many highs and lows throughout his life. He was willing to take risks, with a tendency to be impulsive at times. But, he has never been afraid to put his nose to the grindstone. He has a remarkable ability to pick himself up, dust himself off and to keep on working.
Dad and I are very similar in character and this often leads to us bumping heads. But this hasn’t prevented me from having a deep admiration for his positive spirit and respect for his morality. He is principled yet profoundly compassionate. He never stopped believing in me, even after my accident, and he saw the potential in me long before I noticed it in myself.
Dad sat back and watched me make decisions, after my accident and divorce, which he knew would affect him financially but he loved me enough to take the plunge with me and to be there to pick up the pieces after. Somehow, he just understood that I needed to take this road in order to grow in character and rebuild a new life in a new body. And for that, I am truly grateful.
In essence, if it weren’t for my dad I would not be the person I am today. Dad enabled me to continue working. I never hesitated when accepting speaking engagements because I had the comfort of knowing that dad would always be available to support, drive and accompany me. I didn’t have to think twice about applying for that job despite being expected to have to travel 350 km one way. I just knew that dad would be available.
But most importantly of all, dad taught me about living a meaningful life. I now know that through his unconditional love, care and support he gave me the means to live with purpose. I realize now that it came naturally for me to reach out and care for others because I was simply following dad’s example.
My life and my work is all about communicating, teaching, helping, talking, writing, listening, looking and celebrating uniqueness in all people. I’ve learned to not only look at people but to look into them. It’s not about the money. Earning a salary is not going to give my life more meaning and purpose. Life is about way more than a paid job.
I need to give my dad recognition for the opportunities he has given me and the privilege of learning how to love unconditionally.
Dad – thank you – I love you – happy Father’s Day.
My dad, Henry Sinclair.