I’ve been given the opportunity to write a weekly column on disability for the Good Men Project and now I’m wondering what to call it?
This morning I took a long walk with my guide dog Caitlyn a yellow Labrador trained by Guiding Eyes for the Blind and while she nosed the fallen leaves I thought about problems the disabled face. Not long ago at the university where I teach, I was hassled by a professor who clearly didn’t like sharing an elevator with me and my dog. He was mean.
So under a riot of gold and red September leaves and with my trusty dog at my side, I thought, “why not call this column Sidekick?”
Plenty of disabled folks know about harassment. It’s a serious issue as they’re more likely to have ugly—even fatal—encounters with police, live without healthcare, be unemployed, find themselves having no meaningful opportunities for advancement in the workforce or when pursuing education. It may surprise readers to know only one in four college students with a disability ever graduates.
I view a “sidekick” as something we all need, disabled or not. As a boy who was often lonesome because other kids didn’t want to play with a blind child I admired heroes and their sidekicks—Batman and Robin, the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I didn’t yet understand that a sidekick not only solves loneliness, but as a concept it’s also un-American since a sidekick means no one can get the job done by himself. That’s something the disabled really know about.
Literature is filled with great sidekicks: Sancho Panza, Huck Finn’s buddy Tom Sawyer, Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson. I’m sure you can make your own list. The point is, our lives unfold rather magically when we have devoted friends.
My elevator encounter was unpleasant but it cannot define my day or life. I have a great guide dog who has my back everywhere we go. She won’t let me step into harm’s way. And when she senses I’m down she comes and puts her head on my knee. In turn, I sometimes drop my book, get on the floor and put my arms around her as she sleeps. She wakes half way and wags her tail.
In this time of unprecedented environmental, viral, and social disasters we all need sidekicks and let’s admit it. For some like me who are lucky, who have a great service dog and strong friendships it’s important to foster what I’m calling, inelegantly, a broader sidekick-ism. I don’t mean this paternalistically but merely as a reminder that we can all push further to extend a hand or a listening ear to others.
Maybe it’s volunteerism, maybe it’s giving to a good cause, or maybe it’s just simply taking an interest in someone who you’ve not met before, a person who isn’t like you. I’ll say it: the disabled know a good deal about this. Take it from sidekick central, this is the moment we as Americans need to have each other’s backs.