Over the Edge . . .

Time travel for crips


by Bob Mauro

Robert Mauro is the author of five books, including The Landscape of My Disability.

I recently saw Stephen Hawking on a PBS special about time travel. Hawking, a British theoretical physicist at Cambridge University in England, has amyotropic lateral sclerosis. He doesn't believe time travel is possible. Why? There's a long and complicated explanation, none of which has anything to do with Hawking having ALS. It involves physics, Einstein, relativity, the space-time continuum, black holes and worm holes.

According to Hawking, the big problem with time travel is getting through a worm hole in one piece. It's impossible, he claims -- even for crips, who have gotten through a lot tighter spots.

Some physicists speculate that because space and time are warped, or folded back upon themselves, and because space and time are part of the same phenomenon, relatively speaking, of course, anyone traveling through a worm hole could travel in time -- in either direction.

How? Inside a worm hole, matter and gravity are distorted. Mass, space, and time are altered. So worm holes theoretically become tunnels through which a space traveler could voyage back to the past or forward to the future.

Never, claims Hawking. The problem with the worm hole-time travel theory, he says, is that as our body enters one of these time tunnels, the tremendous gravity in a worm hole tends to crush one's atoms and you die.

Regardless of what Hawking believes, I'd like to think crips can travel in time. Crips have defied gravity before!

The question is: where would we go if we could travel in time? Where would I, a crip, venture to? A lot of places!

I'd like to slip through a worm hole and, instead of coming out like a shredded Hawking sausage, come out around 32 AD. I'd like to see just how Jesus made the blind see and the lame walk. Was it more symbolic than physical? Did he actually wave his hands and turn the cripples into nondisabled men and women?

And what became of those "cured" crips? Did the blind guy suddenly toss his tin cup into the Jordan and become . . . a painter? A sculptor? Did that lame fellow throw his crutch into the Dead Sea and open up a dancing school? Maybe compete in a Marathon? I'd like to know. Or were these crips who were turned into Ables jailed by the State for trying to be something "different" ? Were they stoned by the faithful for being "possessed"?

Next I'd visit the Middle Ages. I'd want to meet some witches just before they were burned at the stake. Were they really witches -- or just "different"? Were they ahead of their time in the use of alternative medicines? Or were they mentally ill? Were they the "crazy" ones? Or were the crazy ones the judges and clerics who condemned them for being different?

My next stop on the space-time continuum would be Germany. I'd want to see if I could stop Hitler from gassing 200,000 crips in his T-4 Program and 6,000,000 Jews in the Holocaust. I'm not sure how I'd do that, but if I could travel back in time, I'd find a way. We crips, after all, are innovative. Just look at that one-armed, one-eyed, three-fingered Lt. Col. von Stauffenberg. He planted that briefcase bomb near Adolf and nearly killed the Fuhrer. But some Able interfered by moving the explosive package. And the rest, sadly, is history.

I'd also want to stop by The White House around 1933 and have a long heart-to-heart talk with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I'd tell him about pride in one's disability and ask him if his splendid deception was really necessary. I'd tell him to let the press photograph him in his wheelchair, to drop the cigarette smoking, and let everyone see his leg braces. I'd tell him to paint them white instead of the black he used to hide them.

Would FDR listen to me? Or would he tune me out and insist he was doing the right thing, considering how those with disabilities were treated and viewed in the 1930s?

Finally, I'd like to visit with myself as a child. My doppelganger. I'd like to be an objective observer and see how I was really treated when I first got polio. I have vague but bad memories. I was only five years old. I'd like to know exactly what I said and did when they put me in that iron lung in 1951. What did I say and do when I was taken out of it for the last time in 1952? Were the nurses really as mean to me as I remember them to be? Were the doctors really as cold? I'd like to know. Time travel would make that all possible.

Hawking says time travel isn't possible. Maybe that's a good thing. If time travel were possible and future crips were already doing it, maybe no one would be disabled. Maybe there would be no Stephen Hawking with ALS. Maybe there would be no AIDS.

The question is: what would a world be without disability? Less compassionate? More violent?

Maybe we could ask Stephen Hawking that question.



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