When I became disabled, I was still clinging to a four-letter word that bothered my sister.
Not that four-letter word. The other one, the more useless word — can’t.
I was whining about not being able to find a job that didn’t require me to drive. (Social services are so squeezed in the U.S., that it’s a condition of employment for many workers in the “helping” professions.)
This didn’t sit well with my sister, a nurse who has worked for decades with people with severe disabilities. (She was a pioneer in the field of independent living for youth in wheelchairs who required ventilators and other technology.)
“Don’t say can’t,” she advised. “You can, if …”
I argued: OK, I can drive if I could afford to buy a car, if I could afford the estimated $30,000 to alter it with hand controls, if I wanted to relearn driving — rather than taking public transit and depending on other drivers — and if I chose to inflict myself on other drivers, using said hand controls.
She wasn’t impressed by my whining. (Ever meet a nurse who was?)
“Stop saying you can’t. The point is, you can,” she said.
Ever notice how younger sisters can end an argument with a three-letter word? I am forever grateful for this lesson.
This was the start of my reframing (something counselors learn early). I learned to reframe the way I thought about my “inability” to drive. Then I learned to reframe the way I used that four-letter word in general.
I’ve been working at erasing it from my vocabulary for 10 years. You would be amazed at the difference this makes in recovery and rehabilitation. (You would also be amazed to see, after I stopped saying I can’t run, how ridiculous my attempts are!)
I’m not advocating that we all drop the word, can’t. Many cannot.
But I’m reminded of my own journey this week because I’m celebrating my sister’s return to school. It’s a lifelong dream-come-true, after decades of working as a nurse, and motherhood, and, her absolute gift of being an earth mother to many, many people. Including me, her older sister.
I am reminded of our clipped discussions about “can’t.” I’m reminded, yet again, of her wisdom about accepting disability and learning to grow with it.
I’m reminded because returning to school, at any age, for any reason, is a challenge, yet also the greatest opportunity.
Just as she shared her wealth of knowledge with me, I’m here to share the little I’ve learned. I’m here to share humor, and to support her when this two-year program seems daunting. (Imagine 12-hour nursing shifts as part of your mid-aged education, and you’ll have some notion of what she’s facing.)
I’m also here, as her big sister, to remind her — ever-so-gently — about our conversation about a four-letter word.
Yet I’m certain I will miss that “told you so” moment big sisters are known to flaunt.
Can’t just isn’t part of my sister’s strong voice.