Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Taking Inspiration From FDR

As a political scientist, my father devoted time to studying and writing about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32nd president. He recently suggested that I watch Sunrise at Campobello, the story of Roosevelt contracting polio and becoming a cripple at the age of 39.

Until it happened to me, I didn't recognize the profound effect of becoming disabled in middle-age. Unlike me, FDR never walked again, but after seven years of facing what we go through – the grieving, the depression, the redefinition of self, the hoping, the endless therapy – he decided not to live the quiet, comfortable life of a wealthy invalid but to run for President of the United States. Audacious!

Taking office as the Great Depression peaked, FDR shaped relief programs such as Social Security, which Americans have enjoyed for nearly 80 years. The political battle over these progressive reforms was as difficult then as it is today, and I wonder if the humility and compassion that FDR gained while adjusting to his disability gave him the courage and patience to push this legislation through.

My dad says that without polio, FDR wouldn't have become president because he would have run too early and lost to an entrenched Republican Party, which didn't become vulnerable until the Depression. My dad says that without FDR, Hitler would have won. In Hitler's vision of the world, invalids like FDR were candidates for euthanasia.

What a difference a cripple can make.


  1. Very interesting. (I looked up some previews on youTube) I will see if I can borrow this from somewhere. My Stroke Recovery Association small group is thinking about doing a monthly movie /educational video night so I am looking for more inspirational ideas for our evenings. I bought The Kings Speech and we will show that at some point for sure. If you (or your dad) have any other suggestions I would love to hear them.

  2. What a great post. It's impossible to see the bigger picture that each of us contibutes to. We have to have faith that small acts can be a force for good. Faith is something I struggle with so thanks for the inspiration.

  3. That's quite a convincing argument about suffering being the engine of social and personal change. The individual pays a high price but society reaps the rewards. Thanks for another inspiring blog Marce,
    love joe x

  4. Now if only us 'cripples' can change the stroke associations to get off their collective **ses and try to figure out the best way to provide/research ways for all survivors to recover - not just rehabilitate. Oh well, my rant for the day.

  5. I love your writing, short, succinct and powerful...yesterday I was honored to listen to Thich Nhat Hanh, this amazing buddhist monk who lectures on mindfulness. There was a beautiful analogy how the lotus flower, a testament to God's kingdom, comes from mud...Mud! Beautiful things cannot be without being something like mud first...Not sure if it applies to your blog on FDR but it certainly resonates that for me...<3