On Saturday November 19, I photographed the 2016 Candlelight Gala for the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California. (I have included the entire photo gallery from the Westin St. Francis with individual selections throughout this post.) Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars was the guest speaker.
Since I had my first seizure when I was 16, I have been reconstructing reality. Each time I had a seizure, I felt as if I had entered a movie or television show. In 2004, something similar happened when my father shot himself. I felt like Humpty Dumpty in a surreal reality show. Coincidentally, November 19, 2016 was Survivor Day (International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.)
My father shot himself with a gun he purchased from a Las Vegas pawn shop. He built a Harley and drove an old 1940 Ford. Does it sound unreal that my father could have known our guest speaker before Rick Harrison became famous? What sounds real?
After my father died, I tried to make sense of the loss. I wondered if the receipt for the gun was a message. I wondered if his loss had a greater meaning. I decided that I needed to stop hiding my disability… from myself and others. Those of us with epilepsy have learned to hide, often for survival. Even now, it might be safer to hide.
We need heroes… our own heroes. Several months after my father died, I heard a short news story by Katie Couric about a young man who was saved on a New York subway. It was touching. Cameron Hollopeter, a 19 year old film student, had been saved. Cameron had a seizure and fell onto the tracks and another person became a hero. Couric was not the only journalist to simplify the story. (Donald Trump also gave the hero $10,000 dollars too.)
Years later, Hollopeter remains the object of a melodrama.
Katie Couric appeared on Pawn Stars in 2013. She purchased a signed Mark Twain handwritten aphorism, “We ought never do wrong when anyone is looking.” The quote reminds me of the expression that is often attributed to John Wooden, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
As much as I admire John Wooden and Mark Twain, I think that their aphorisms oversimplify character, or at best, set the bar too low. A true test of a person’s character could be how he or she behaves when facing peer pressure.
Does a person do right when everyone is looking?
As a person with a disability, I wonder if people even look at me. Do people see me? When opponents of the new administration stand with groups who feel threatened, is there a reason that people with disabilities are omitted from the list? Are we intentionally omitted or are we just forgotten? When supporters of the new administration heard their candidate mock a reporter with a disability, why were the supporters quiet?
We need our own heroes, because, regardless of the definition of character, we know what it means to be ignored by our friends and enemies. It’s unreal, except it isn’t.
The times are a slowly changing. Miles Levin, a young filmmaker, presented his video about summer camp during at the gala. It was the highlight of the evening. I thought about Cameron during Miles’ presentation and wondered what could have happened if the world have encouraged Cameron while recognizing the person who eventually saved Cameron’s life. Perhaps those of us with disabilities need to start our own magazine, on this 80th anniversary of Life Magazine, and we need to start our own code. Perhaps we could call it the Cameron Code.
(Notes to follow)
Here is a link to my notes on this blog post. I also edited this post on 11/28 to read more easily.