I love the platypus. I have ever since I was a kid. When stuffed platypi were first brought back to England from Australia, they were rejected as fakes. Bad fakes even, obvious attempts by desperate amateur zoologists seeking a bit of fame. How else to explain a ducked billed otter with webbed feet, barbed venomous tail, with egg laying that would put a chicken to shame? The very concept of such an animal was comic, and many professors felt insulted that they were even to be expected to believe such nonsense. It was to be rejected on its face, an oddity not in keeping with the splendor of Gods design. God made wolves, lions, and bears. Majestic true expressions of nature. They couldn’t believe God’s plan had room for the undignified, or comic, or bizarre. And certainly not a duck that thought it was a beaver that thought it was a hen. In time, though they were proven wrong of course, and forced to reckon with its place in God’s great plan. They would struggle to categorize such an animal, and marvel at just how unlikely it was that such a creature could exist. The irony being, of course, that the miracle of the platypus is not a freak accident, but that its evolutionary path was almost inevitable.
Australia is a unique ecosystem. Home to countless species which persisted, grew and changed in perfect isolation from other continents. Distant cousins became more distant, as generation after generation of animal changed, adapted, and grew to fit the harsh, new landscape in which they found themselves. Asked to do the impossible, they rose to the task. Through natural selection they grew pouches, venom sacs, bits and barbs. Dogs became dingoes and the platypus found its bill. In isolation their perfect, sensible remedies took shape. In such a place, the platypus simply made sense. Every adaptation was sensible and correct. But plucked from its home and history, it became painfully different. Plagued by those unable to see that the platypus is a genius of adaptation, an absurd, wonderful answer to an absurd, wonderful world.
And so are people with disabilities…
We are odd. We are neurotic, or closed off, or jeez JUST SO SENSITIVE. Cruelly distant, or trusting to the point of self-harm. Thoughtless dolts, or outright jerks. Our gait too wide, our voices too high or low, skin pop marked, or pasty white. Our bodies and minds constantly accommodating a world often unsuited to our needs, pumping out a seemingly random assemblage of tawdry ‘quirks,’ human wants, and pronounced, inexcusable flaws.
And divorced from the history of our community and impairments, not a bit of it fits. Not our beautiful, infuriating faults. Nor our courageous expressions of self-care, or protective behavior, or learned guardedness. The realities of disabled life sometimes necessitate bodies and behaviors that seem out of place to the ignorant. To some, we will simply never make sense. But we have a lesson to learn.
A platypus doesn’t need to justify its own existence. A platypus knows what it is, and what it is about. It was there before the ignorant scientists pulled up on shore, and it will be there long after they are gone. Invariably appreciated by those willing to practice some careful study. It is adorable, full of eggs and a treasure born of adaptation. Proud of every step that made it what it is. I love being a platypus and I love the disabled community. All of us a remarkable, irreplaceable discovery, miracles of distance, persistence, and time.