Waist-High in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled, by Nancy Mairs (Beacon, 212 pp.; $20, hardcover). Reviewed by Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse, the author of many books, including Cooked to Perfection: How to Respond When Life Turns Up the Heat, published this month by Zondervan.
My husband's aunt was as close to perfect as you can get, at least by society's standards. Attractive, fit, beautifully dressed, wealthy, and well connected, she was an achiever who quickly rose through the ranks in the telecommunications business. It all could make a person jealous, except that she was genuinely kind and a delight to be with.
She is still attractive, still delightful company. But she isn't perfect anymore. You wouldn't know it to look at her, but for the last several years, Marsha has had multiple sclerosis. She tires easily, lacks sensation in her feet, can't maintain her former CEO pace. But there is something in her very imperfection that seems to have given her life new depth and poignancy.
Nancy Mairs would understand. Mairs, an essayist whose immune system turned traitor in her twenties, is now wheelchair-bound from MS. In this memoir, Mairs, now fiftysomething, writes of what it is like to live with a disability, what the disabled would like the rest of us to understand, what "physical, emotional, moral, and spiritual elements shape the 'differences' founded by disability."
These issues, as she points out, are becoming increasingly urgent in our society (and, I would add, in the church). We are living longer, but at a cost: "Life expectancy has increased more than thirty years since the turn of the century, a span that offers all kinds of new possibilities—among them, alas, the chance that illness or accident will permanently ...1