The Human And Spiritual Experience Of Disability

I entered my forty-first year of life on September 30th 2019! Since I was a little girl, I’ve always been excited about my birthday. Two weeks before my birthday, I was sitting in my bedroom on my oversized chair that I describe as a mini-loveseat, and I was brimming with a child-like excitement but not because of the anticipation of birthday presents. Sitting on this mini-loveseat thinking about the days ahead had become something sacred for me. I purchased the mini-loveseat as an addition to my bedroom so that when I became overwhelmed by life (which at almost 41 years old, I now know to anticipate), I could retreat to my room. I could sit, relax and breathe, and breathe deeply with intention. It’s funny how one becomes aware of the importance of breathing it becomes a necessity, at least important and a necessary to me. This simple brown, mini-loveseat has taken on the energy of pure positivity, and as I sat on it thinking and talking to my mother about my forty-first birthday, I became giddy. To be honest, at first, I felt silly.

But I realized that the energy and my feelings were a build-up from everything I had experienced all my life. Just before my fortieth birthday, many people shared advice with me about turning forty. Most people close to me, including my mother, shared that in my forties I was going to experience the time of my life, that I would confront my life with a new perspective. My mother, who next to God is the most powerful force in my life, shared that I was going to know a self-confidence and self-awareness like no other I’ve ever known. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant but I trusted what she said.

I had always trusted everything my mother told me. Mommy was (and still is) my hero. She had raised me and my three brothers as a single mother. My father left our home after sixteen years of marriage to my mother. He left to live in their homeland in Puerto Rico while she was left to raised us in Newark, NJ on welfare. She is, by far, the strongest woman I have and I believe will ever come across; I’m sure of that. Not only because she raised my brothers and me as a single mother facing tremendous obstacles and hardships, but because she was ahead of her time when it came to raising a child like me.

I have experienced a disability ever since I was a child. The doctors diagnosed me with Cerebral Palsy at the age of four. The news that her child would experience a disability for the rest of her life was not earth-shattering to my mother. Yes, she was concerned about my development and health. She wanted me to have the very best opportunities, be educated and live an enriching life. However, above all, my mother lived not by the constraints of doctors’ reports but by faith. She believed there was a plan for my life and all of her kids. My mother always wanted me to define myself by all of my gifts and talents and never my label of disability. She saw each of us as human, and precious and divine. Mommy had a mantra that I repeat in my head till this day. She would tell me that I could do anything I put my mind to and I that I was worthy of all of my dreams coming true. Like scripture, she recited this to me and my brothers every morning, filling our spirits up before our bodies drudged through the day. The news wasn’t earth-shattering for my mother because she had a relationship with God that was based on the unyielding spiritual practices of faith, trust and love long before I came along. She inherited this from her mother. My grandmother did not go to church, but she was a prayerful woman. She knew God in the most intimate of ways. She took life as it came and she did her best, just like my mother. She lived for ninety-five beautiful years. Both of these women became my moral compass. They believed that the practice of faith, trust, and love in and for God was the only manner to realize the God within, and the best path to take to reach the greatest parts of one’s humanity. Through faith in something greater than themselves, they showed me how to love first myself (as I am) and others as they are even when their assumptions and judgement about me is off-putting or plain old offensive.

As I geared up to welcome my forty-first year of life, I was awakened to my spiritual practice and knowledge. I am praying and believing more every day. At times like this, when the political and social climates are in disarray, prayer is the one thing I can count on to keep me leveled. When everything we have fought for in the name of human rights seems to be crumbling before our eyes, believing in a better tomorrow, as sappy as it may sound, is the one thing I hold onto. Sitting on my mini-loveseat with my mother, I saw my humanity and hers more clearly and that is why I am so giddy. I’ve been on this journey for a long time. I realized that my mother was not raising a child with a disability. No, Mommy’s energy was focused on raising a spiritual human being that believed in the God within her. She was focused on helping me discover my divine purpose and tap into gifts and blessings God had entrusted in me. In the same manner that her mother passed down the spiritual powers of faith, trust, and love to her, my mother did the same for me.

My mother’s encouraging words and teachings have become my scripture, my religion. I used and continued to use her words to guide me to the deepest parts of my humanity. My mother’s words have become my own as I share my story and my life unapologetically with others. My inner voice speaks in the manner the comforts my spirit and lets me know that I am enough and I belong. It also confirms that I have amazing gifts that I must share with the rest of humanity. Today, I know more than ever that experiencing Cerebral Palsy is an experience of my humanity, and it’s in my life manifestation and strengthens my spirituality each day. I am blessed. I now know about the self-confidence and self- awareness my mother advised me about before I turned forty!

Today, at forty-one years old, I am living my best life with all its celebrations and disappointments. I tell my story far and wide as it is my gift. I am not disabled, but a human who happens to experience what some call a disability. I am a nationally-known motivational speaker and an advocate who gets the opportunity to share my experiences of being a human, a Puerto Rican, a licensed driver, a graduate of a Master’s program (in Disability Studies), a self-published author, and an owner of a brown mini-loveseat that I use to center myself. It’s been a blessing like no other and all of it comes from faith, trust, love, believing in one’s humanity and the precious legacy of my mother, Felicita Vazquez.