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From Dreams to Declarations

October 15, 2009

John Hockenberry's Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs and Declarations of Independence

This post was contributed by Cindy Battles, a freelance writer based in Rutland, VT who’s been diagnosed with and managing bipolar disorder for many years.

As our national ethos, the American Dream takes many forms: homeownership, financial success, equality… and for some, the simple quest for normalcy. For Emmy and Peabody award-winning NPR and Dateline NBC correspondent John Hockenberry, that’s an unwavering commitment to his profession. Whether braving, as a paraplegic, what must’ve been a rickety balancing act on a donkey’s back, up treacherous, muddy, wartime Iraqi mountain terrain to navigating his wheelchair across the seemingly impassable desert sands, his grit and persistence proved integral to the achievement of his American Dream: a Declaration of Independence, wheelchair be damned.

Certainly, for anyone, war zone reporting requires unique tenacity and courage. But for Hockenberry, the day-to-day homeland battle for normalcy, to be treated the same as anyone else, called for its own superhuman strength. Imagine city cabbies who won’t pick you up, mothers telling their children not to look at you, passersby who don’t offer help while you’re struggling up the steps of the subway in a wheelchair. And still, Hockenberry quips, “One of the chief advantages of being in a wheelchair is always having an excuse not to go bowling.”

This sort of self-deprecating humor is likely familiar to many of us, as a defense mechanism, no matter what your ability. For example, I used to say I was “hitting High C,” a funny term my late father came up with, for when I started shaking and my anxiety went off the charts — enough to smash a glass! It beat “that’s just my mental illness,” which might instead engender the fear which so often accompanies the uncontrollable, the non-normalcy of living with a disability.

Hockenberry, too, was no stranger to what one might call a non-normalcy “grudge.” His mantra: “What’s possible in this world can only be found among the wreckage of the impossible.” I, for one, prefer a bit more positive spin, i.e., all obstacles are opportunities.

Nonetheless, Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs and Declarations of Independence is a triumphant reminder that whether it’s from the confines of a wheelchair or the ability to simply dream a different dream, no areas are off-limits. The result being: another (albeit prickly) hero, I’m proud to add to my list.



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