Photo of Cigar tree by Michelle Steiner
Shortly after we moved into our house we found a a cigar tree growing in our back yard. This type of tree produces beautiful white delicate blooms in the late spring or early summer. In the Autumn, the flowers are gone and stringy brown branches that look like cigars fall from the trees. One of the neighbors told my dad that I will probably want to cut down the tree, because of the brown that falls. My personal preference is the flowers, compared to the the dark branches that tumble down. However I can’t have the flowers, without the branches that come with it. I would certainly miss the flowers if I cut the tree down. Having a disability has been much like having a cigar tree. For so long all I could see were the long dark branches that fell to the ground. I wanted to cut the tree down and thought how much better my life would be without it.
No matter how hard I tried though I couldn’t get rid of my Learning Disability. I thought the start of every beginning of every school year or semester would be the year that I would master math, perform well in in gym class, and become popular. I was always disappointed when none of these things happened. I became even more frustrated when I graduated and felt that my disability was holding me back from the job I wanted, or finding a relationship. I wanted to cut the tree down! I was determined that I would find a way to not have one. No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t do it. The roots ran too deep and it was forever planted.
It wasn’t until I laid the axe down, that things began to work in my favor. Instead of wasting my energy on trying to get rid of it, I began to learn to live with my disability. I had to learn to find ways that worked for me, through much trial and error. Most importantly I began to advocate for myself.
Advocacy looks different in the various parts of my life. When I was in school I needed to have extended test time, tutoring, and a note taker to be successful. When I moved out on my own I knew that I needed to live in a central location, to be able to take myself places when I couldn’t get a ride. At my job I may need to have clear instructions, extra time to learn new information, and an understanding of my disability. Nobody can know what my needs are unless I tell them.
Once I began to accept it and find ways to work with it I also began to see the benefits of having one. It may have created difficulty but it also produced resilience, strength ,and creative ways to solve a problem. I also found others who had a disability as well.
In the natural world opposites are more common. The cigar tree can’t exist without the flowers and the brown stringy branches. The two opposite forces work together and each has their season to bloom. I’m glad that I didn’t take my neighbors advice and remove the tree. I’m also happy that my disability didn’t go away either. Having a disability is having two opposite sides. One part represents the difficulty and challenges, living with one creates. The other part represents the positives and the richer experiences that made me into the person I am today. If I focus on what I perceive to be ugly, then I miss out on the beauty that is right in front of me.