On Dignity

There is always more to a person than a first impression allows to be known. It takes time and trust to find out what a person needs or wants and who they are, were, and want to be someday.  When I first met The Chef,  she called me into her bedroom where she was resting on a bedside commode, clearly occupied with the business at hand.  She apologized with a toothless mouth but she needed some time before we could start.  About five to ten minutes of talk show drama played out on a tiny television before The Chef’s electric wheelchair backed out of the bedroom.  She zipped past me to the kitchen and yelled, “Be right there.”

After a few more minutes, she returned to the cluttered living room and was ready to start. If I had trusted my first impression of The Chef, I would have thought that she was resistant and unfocused.  I had to check my feelings of frustration towards her for making me wait by remembering that this was her life.  I was able to leave at anytime and return to the security of a life outside the struggles of the inner city, while she couldn’t get out of her electric wheelchair without help.  This was a life in which she was trapped and I needed to get my ego out of the way.  My time and life were of equal importance with hers, and it was something that I needed to remember.

By the end of our visit, I realized just how much life this woman had lived. She wasn’t always confined to a wheelchair because of her bad heart, shaky legs or obesity.  In fact, she grew up spending most of her time in the kitchen, standing on two strong legs next to her grandma, where she learned to cook.  This early experience turned into a career; she started in fast food and worked her way up to better restaurants.  She created new menus with a soul food twist and fed hundreds with her meals.  Along the way, she taught others how to not only season and spice, but to work hard and do things the right way.

Food was her passion but also her vice, leading to her multiple health problems and the eventual end of her career. She still cooks meals with enough to feed anyone who stops by her door, lured by the smell of chicken and vegetables.  Although, disregarded by society due to her poor health, she remains a person of worth, deserving of respect and defining dignity.  She is a person with a past and a future and infinitely more than a mere disability/health condition.

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