A Life Without Freedom

In a world that’s non-stop, fast-paced, all go-go-go, it’s easy to dread the little things.

Even though we make schedules and set reminders on our phones, we’d love to be able to forget about emptying the trash, or putting the camera equipment away after a long shoot. We’d love it if all those chores would just disappear. But what if we’d never been able to do those things? Never bent down to pull a garbage bag out from under the sink; never stretched up on our toes to place a box on a high shelf?

What if we had no independence?

At The StoryBoxes we encourage a collaborative and creative environment. We work together to capture beautiful images and produce unique stories. We have specific roles that we follow, specific tasks that we must complete. But we are individuals, separate parts that make up a whole, separate parts that can work by themselves or together. And that’s what being independent is all about. It’s about having the ability to make our own decisions and choose to do one thing instead of another.

Todd Winther’s idea of being independent is very different. Having cerebral palsy has limited his options. It’s meant having to live a life where the everyday freedoms we take for granted are decided by who wins the constant battle between his body and his brain.

Talking to someone like Todd really puts our own lives into perspective. Not once during our shoot does he complain. We travel all over Brisbane, filming Todd as he rolls through South Bank in his electric wheelchair. The sun reflects off his wheels; people stare. But Todd is not intimidated. In fact, we’re more intimidated by him. He is wickedly smart; some might say he’s a genius. He has a boundless love for politics and, if we let him, will debate with us for hours about his PhD thesis topic (the state of Australia’s political affairs). When we graciously decline he switches to an in-depth discussion about AFL, giving a play-by-play of the latest match involving his beloved Port Adelaide. In a point of pride, he insists on wearing his “Port Power” jersey during the shoot. What surprises us though is his love of Tegan and Sara. With his almost holy commitment to both politics and sports, we can’t quite comprehend where a Canadian pop music duo fit in.

Showing this side of Todd, of disability, was our mission. This is a man who has taken his disability and pushed it to one side. A man who has accepted it so utterly and completely. It’s hard for us to even begin to understand how disability affects a person, how it impacts their life. But for the individuals who have them, disability must become yet another mundane part of their lives.

Todd saw that mundane side of disability and accepted it with an unparalleled kind of frank logic and awareness. For others, understanding this was more of a challenge. In Todd’s quest to become independent he was told he was “not disabled enough” to qualify for a spot in an assisted living complex. For 11 years Todd struggled, trying to convince people he could make it on his own.

But he did, and our interview with him takes place in the living room of his very own apartment. It’s one of seventeen apartments in a Youngcare and Wesley Mission Brisbane assisted care residency in Brisbane’s west. There is no shortage of help available, should Todd ever decide he needs the extra support. But, if anything, living in his own apartment is a constant reminder to Todd to make the most of his independence. And for us to make the most of ours.

Todd’s room is filled with motivational signs and objects that reminds us of freedom. Thick, block-letter weights sit on shelves encouraging him to have “hope”; a silky-green wall-hanging of Chinese proverbs proclaims peace; and, most poignantly, a portrait of American president Theodore Roosevelt, a man whose strong, opinionated, and brilliant mind inspired thousands, hangs like a guardian angel above Todd’s bed.

We hope that in some ways our work incites freedom. We are using our passion for storytelling to reach out to people, to invite them to watch and listen as someone unique is given a chance that they wouldn’t otherwise have to share a little bit about themselves. If we didn’t reach out, if we didn’t have passion or drive, those stories wouldn’t be told. That little bit of freedom, the freedom of expression, the freedom to speak and be heard, would be lost.

Freedom isn’t just about independence or choice. It’s about hope, desire, strength, struggles, happiness, dreams, pleasure, and love; it’s about life.