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TX: 26.05.08 - Rabbi Lionel Blue, What disability means to me

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON

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ROBINSON
In recent days we've been hearing various well known figures describe what disability means to them. The former rugby international, Kenny Logan; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams; Wales' national poet Gwyneth Lewis; the motor racing commentator Murray Walker and the comedienne Liz Carr have all contributed and the series is available as a podcast from our website. Today we hear from a voice that will be familiar to many listeners - Rabbi Lionel Blue, perhaps best known for his contributions to Radio 4's Thought for the Day. Today, though, it isn't fate that he is pondering but living with epilepsy.

BLUE
I'm one of the lucky ones, I'm one of those who get a few minutes warning before the thing happens or usually do. The problem is really for my fellow epileptics who don't get any warning and therefore can get a full attack just when they're crossing a street. Often it means a loss of independence because you need someone always with you when you go out. I've always had those few minutes of knowing that something is going to happen and that I shouldn't try to get home, that I just sit down wherever I am so I don't crack my skull on the kerbstone and okay people might think I'm drunk or on drugs or anything like that but there's always some people who are extremely nice and somehow get me to hospital. I've never seen myself having an epileptic attack, people have told me what it looks like - I go purple, I go rigid and then I keel over and I know nothing about it, it's very much a spectator sport.

I used to think well together with all my other problems I've got this but now I realise that I've learnt a lot through my epilepsy. I saw the funny side of human life, for example. One of the things which sets the epilepsy off was not emotional but was physical - it was flickering neon lighting. And of course you get that - you can get it on the Underground, you can get in supermarkets, you can get it all over the place, you know light filtering through trees. In supermarkets I used to crash into piles of tins and sort of end up in the freezer, falling in. But fortunately I found out that if I wore dark glasses even though that looked very odd lurking among the tuna tins looking like the Italian mafia in the middle of winter it really worked.

Before I got - started getting my life straight I was really an exceptionally busy person and I still am because work is my best therapy. I never quite know how to judge how much I ought to take on. The epilepsy did allow me to say no because you see your theology can cover up the truth, your mind can make a complete muddle of it but the one thing that doesn't lie I think are your muscular tensions and its reactions. Your body might not say anything very complex but what it says is honest.

I think I was grateful for epilepsy. Although materially it's been an inconvenience and spiritually it's taught me a lot. For example, I know what it's like to be at the wrong end of the stick, that to need help to go through a difficult patch in life and I don't suppose I could have got that knowledge very easily in any other way. Also I'm cheered by the fact that there's so many epileptics, I mean there's a lovely lot of epileptics in history, people think St Paul was, and well you can't get higher than that I suppose can you, if you're a Christian that is. But there are footballers who have epilepsy, actors who have epilepsy - all sorts of people. So you really find yourself part of a distinguished club.

ROBINSON
Rabbi Lionel Blue on what disability means to him. And we want to know what disability means to you, you can contact us via our website where you can download a podcast of this item after today's programme or you can call us on 0800 044 044.

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