When my wife and I returned from the Little People of America Conference in Southern California, she told me about a story she heard from a friend of ours. Our friend is in her thirties and is married to a person of short stature. One day during the conference, our friend went out to lunch with a couple. The couple is typical stature and they have a daughter who is about seven years old. The daughter joined them at the lunch. At some point during the meal, the daughter, unhappy, said something like, “I don't want to be here (she meant the LPA conference). I don't want to be a little person.” Our friend looked at the young girl with empathy and understanding. “Some days,” she said, “I don't want to be a little person either.”
I don't know if the 2011 Conference was the first time the young girl spent time with other little people, but her story reminded me, not of my first national conference, but one of the first times I spent an afternoon with a group of other little people. I was probably younger than ten years old. I had gone with my parents to a chapter meeting somewhere near Milwaukee Wisconsin. My parents were inside the house of the family hosting the meeting. I was standing on the sidewalk outside with a guy who was probably in his teens. My parents had been looking forward to me meeting this teenager. I think they believed he would be a good role model. “He lifts weights,” my mother said from the front passenger seat of the car as we drove to the meeting. She turned and looked at me for a few seconds, with a big smile on her face.
This teenager and I stood outside the house, hoping the meeting would be over soon so we could be on our way home. I don't know what we had been talking about. Perhaps I had asked him about weight lifting. But all of a sudden this guy told me he was a fast runner. “Okay,” I said. I wasn't about to tell him I was a fast runner also because I always finished last or second to last in gym class races. Though I didn't doubt he was a fast runner, he wanted to show me. He took off his jacket, took a mark on the sidewalk, then sprinted about 30 or 40 feet. When I show him run, I was shocked. Sure, he was fast. Probably a lot faster than me. But it was how he ran that struck me. The way he moved looked a lot different than the way my peers in gym class looked when they ran. I also knew, the moment I saw the teenager run, that I looked the same way when I ran.
I had seen myself in plenty of mirrors. I knew I was shorter than everyone else my age. I knew that my body was shaped different than the body of my peers. But the sight of the teenager running underscored my difference more strongly than ever before in my life. It was as if that moment was the first time I understood how physically different from most other people I actually was. The moment was a bit overwhelming. I was younger than ten years old. It wasn't like I all of a sudden saw my entire life in front of me as a marginalized person. I didn't see anything beyond third or fourth grade, or whatever grade I was in at the time. But it was still a bit overwhelming, to see myself as different from the rest of my school mates.
I imagine the girl who had lunch with my friend also felt overwhelmed. She probably understood that she was physically different from all of her friends at home. She didn't want to be different, and she didn't want to be around thousands of other people who reminded her of how different she was. But I am glad the young girl's parents brought her to the conference. If she isn't already, one day the young girl will be glad her parents brought her. I am glad my parents drove me to the meeting many years ago. Because at some point, my friends and peers within LPA became much more than a reminder of my physical difference. They became a base of support with which I can manuever through the challenges that a world which doesn't always embrace differences poses. And they became a base of support with which to build awareness and make changes so that, little by little, the world opens up to do a better job of accommodating differences. Like my friend said, there are still some difficult times. Maybe there are some days when it doesn't feel good to be a person of short stature. But that's not my fault, and that's not the fault of the thousands of other little people in the country. If it were, most of us probably wouldn't come back to the national conferences year after year.