By Cynthia Falardeau – Executive Director of The Education Foundation
The first time I saw Oscar Pistorius run, I was captivated. Witnessing him caused me to jump up and down. My 10-year-old son, an amputee since the first week of his life, calmly commented, “Mom, he’s just a man!”
I suppose that should have curbed my enthusiasm. But to see a man in motion without the use of feet was simply magical. I saw him as a future superhero for my son, who is missing part of his right forearm and hand. Completely inspired, I felt as though I had witnessed the Messiah. I was so captivated that I started posting his likeness all over my Facebook page.
In short, I was caught up in “Oscar-mania.” Even my church pastor had preached about Pistorius. The “Blade Runner,” he said, represented Christian values. He embodied things that I wish for my son’s life. Seeing Pistorius at the Olympic and Paralympic Games was amazing and did something very special to raise awareness of athletes with physical differences.
However, in the hysteria, I lost sight of one simple thing that my son had been able to see: Pistorius is just a man. He has the ability to make the mistakes of mortals. He is not a god; he is a person, and I got caught up in the passion.
We don’t know what really happened. I would like to believe that Reeva Steenkamp’s death was a horrible accident. Oscar Pistorius may or may not be guilty.
But, whatever happened, there is a lesson: Too often in life, we put people on pedestals. We set them up to fail. The reality is that, despite their seemingly superhuman performances, they are just people with their own sets of challenges.
The truth is, I wanted my son to have a role model. The first part of his life was filled with questions for me. I wanted someone to tell me that he would be OK. After he was born, the first couple of times that I saw someone with a limb difference, I would race up to them and start a conversation. In the beginning, this approach brought me comfort.
One morning at the gym, I spotted a man with a limb difference like my son’s. At the time, my baby was only 6 months old. I ran up to him and said hello. The guy turned and looked at me.
In a thick French-Canadian accent, he responded, “Hello, my dear!” Completely embarrassed, I thrust my baby into his range of vision and stumbled to say, “He, he, he is like you!” Suddenly, his seductive voice changed to a matter-of-fact tone. In an instant, he said the words I have never forgotten: “This is your issue. Your son will never really see himself as different unless you let him.” He continued, “He is young and you control how he perceives himself. So just relax and enjoy him. “I was mortified and completely perplexed. But on another level, I was grateful for his words.
All of this made my husband laugh. As a man who lacks hair, he remarked, “Honey, I don’t run up to every bald guy! You should not expect to have a connection with every person whose limb difference is like our son’s. After all, they are just people.” So there, again, was my life lesson.
We want to be reminded that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. But, despite whatever heroic and inspiring feats we accomplish, we are all potentially capable of doing great harm.
I am grateful for Pistorius’ flash of greatness, and I am sad if he has fallen from it.