When I was five or six years old, I sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, watching the adults cook. My Gram asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
“I want to be a police officer,” I said without hesitation.
There was a long pause.
My grandmother looked across the table at my mother. Then she looked back at me.
She said, “You may have a hard time doing that.”
“Why?” I asked.
My grandmother said, “Well, they have hard tests to be a police officer and you have to be able to pass them.”
“But I can pass the test. I’m smart, Gram.” I said.
“I know you’re smart. You still might have a hard time.”
I use a wheelchair. I’ve always appreciated how hard my grandmother tried not to tell me that I couldn’t be accepted into a police academy because I have a disability.
When I got a little older, I decided I should be a lawyer. I wanted to be a lawyer for the same reasons that I wanted to be a police officer. I thought that a lawyer’s job was to help people. All of the lawyers I saw on television were always helping innocent people get out of jail. That was what I wanted to do, so for a very long time, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I said, “I want to be a lawyer.”
Then I realized that most lawyers aren’t Perry Mason. To be a defense lawyer, you have to be willing to take on the guilty as well as the innocent. To be a prosecutor requires a level of detachment that I’ve never mastered.
In my mid-teens, I knew that I was truly meant to be a writer. I also knew that I would need to find another way to pay my bills. I thought I would make a good early childhood teacher or a nanny because I was good with young children, and I enjoyed being with them. I worked at a day care center for two years and as a day camp counselor for kindergarten-aged kids. Ultimately, I realized that I don’t have the endurance or the detachment necessary for a teaching career.
I don’t have the patience to fight the uphill battle of constantly “proving” that I can be a good teacher, either. If I had a dollar for every instructor who expressed doubts about my ability to teach because I use a wheelchair, I’d be rich.
I spent five years as a library assistant while also working as a clerk and receptionist at a veteran’s hospital. I love helping people find books and authors who speak to them. Military service is important to me as well. My great-grandfather fought in World War I. My grandfathers fought in World War II and in the Korean War. My uncles have served in the military and my cousin is currently a United States Marine. I would have liked to follow my grandfathers, but that wasn’t the hand I was dealt. I was proud and honored to be able to serve my nation’s vets in a tangible way.
I believe that someday, using a wheelchair will not be an obstacle for those who want to serve in law enforcement or the military. Until then, I will keep writing.
Western culture would like us to believe that all you need in order to achieve your dreams is the right attitude and enough work. Sometimes that isn’t true. You’ll have to let a dream or two fade. But never give up trying to find your purpose.