The best of memoirs do a number of things well – they give us intimate views of others’ lives, they enlighten us with more personal perspectives on historical eras or social issues, and, in the best of cases, they reaffirm our shared humanity. Fran Macilvey’s touching memoir, Trapped—My Life With Cerebral Palsy, in which she lays bare her struggles and successes, succeeds on all counts.
Fran’s life was launched in an exotic setting under dramatic circumstances–she was conceived in the Belgian Congo, one of a pair of girls. Her sister emerged unscathed; Fran was born with CP.
That’s a scary proposition, at least for me, and I suspect for many others, and one I knew little about before reading Fran’s book. Fran invites readers into her life, allowing them to see the obstacle course she has had to run in order to survive, including both the physical indignities and the maddeningly ignorant reactions from those around her. Living with twisted limbs is punishment enough; off-base reactions from both loved ones and strangers is equally cruel.
But Fran excels in a few key areas: first, she has the courage to bare her soul to the reader, a supremely brave act for anyone; second, she tells sometimes very painful truths quite eloquently, without drowning herself or the rest of us in despair; and third, while sharing her very human story, she manages to lower the wall between the more generally abled and the visibly disabled, helping us see our commonalities more than our differences.
Life breaks us all, as Hemingway observed. But some are strong in the broken places. Some of us suffer more frequently, or severely, or visibly than others, and have to choose, again and again, whether to gather the strength to rise once more. That’s something we love about comic book superheroes–their unlimited resiliency. For at least an hour or two their stories can transport us to another reality where, despite being blown to bits or shot into outer space, full recovery is always just around the corner. For us mere mortals, it doesn’t work out that way. Recovery can be long and drawn out, and maddeningly elusive. Even where healing does occur the scars can remain forever.
So for inspiration, superheroes have their limits. When I look for real heroes, I’m most impressed by otherwise ordinary individuals who, despite terrible challenges, have repeatedly risen from the ashes, not only to survive, but to do some good in the world as well. People like Fran.
Hers is a great story to share.