The Me Before You Dilemma: What Makes Life Worth Living

When I first bought the Me Before You book, I didn’t know it came with controversy. I didn’t realize I was entering a story full of dilemma and debate centered around an unnamed question:

Is life in a wheelchair worth living?

The movie version of Me Before You premiered at the beginning of June and I found a firestorm on social media. I had wanted to go see the movie after I read the book. It looked like a sweet story of a lady falling in love with a man who happened to need a wheelchair for some reason. To me, this is rare. You don’t see characters in mainstream movies who use a wheelchair to help them be a part of their community, overcoming their physical limitations along their way.

If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I’m about to spoil it for you. Some things must be said. Because I couldn’t support the movie after I learned what I learned. I read the book in order to form my own opinions. Now I share them with you.

A Short Summary of Me Before You

Will Traynor becomes a quadriplegic early in the story. He needs a caregiver to assist him during the days while his parents are at work. Louisa Clark takes the job. It’s only for 6 months. Eventually she finds out why. Will plans to end his life. His family knows this fact and they agree to take him to the clinic where assisted suicide is considered legal. But all along Will’s parents hope he will change his mind. They place their hope in Louisa changing Will’s mind and giving him a reason to live. When Louisa uncovers the truth, she comes up with a goal to do everything she can to convince Will that his life is worth living. Her plan includes adventures, outings, trips, and experiences of a lifetime. And yes, she falls in love with Will. But that is not enough for him. Nothing is enough for him to see a good life. The plan remains and he ends his life.

What Me Before You Lacks

There is so much more to the story and the topic. I could probably write for a month on this book. It stirs up many thoughts and questions, such as: Why couldn’t we see a character with a new physical limitation walk the journey of accepting their new normal? Why couldn’t the author offer a positive representation of someone living with a disability?

For one thing, the characters begin with a limited perspective. They don’t know their ultimate worth in the eyes of God. They are only connected to each other and their savior is in the form of a person. This is why Louisa feels like a failure. She can’t convince Will to live.

The characters don’t address the aspect of mental health. They don’t reach out for professional help. It is mentioned multiple times that Will is in a vulnerable state and they all need to stay positive around him. A positive attitude can only go so far when the person is considering life or death.

The characters imply that a physical disability should remain hidden. They live in such a way that says 5 different things:

  1. Only a “normal” person can chase dreams and reach new potentials.
  2. A limitation means fewer possibilities and those possibilities are less than ideal.
  3. Needing help with meals brings unwanted and awkward attention.
  4. Avoid being in public too much because strangers might be inconsiderate or offer looks of pity.
  5. Loving a person with a disability will hold one back from a good life.

How Life with a Limitation Can Be Full

While I’m not a quadriplegic and I was born with my condition, I need hands-on help all the time. From morning to evening and sometimes in the middle of the night. I’ve wrestled with my own questions regarding my limitations, but I’ve always fought for potential. Obstacles don’t stop me. A wheelchair can be a path to freedom. It takes me places. It provides independence.

Every stranger that sees me in public will not understand me. Some will definitely frustrate me. But I can hope that the misconceptions surrounding disabilities will slowly diminish. And I can hope the gap between the so-called “able-bodied” and physically limited will slowly disappear.

I have my community. They accept me and love ME. Just as I love myself and embrace my normal. This story I’m living is a beautiful one. And oh so full of JOY and WORTH.