Suffer the Fools

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The presenter wobbled across the room on tiny, child sized feet. Her ankles tipped towards the ground. With each step, she fell clumsily forward. A man wheeled in a chair into the middle of the circle. The woman gave a grateful nod and dropped onto the seat. Her legs dangled above the ground with her tiny feet swinging back and forth. Yet, she still continued with her presentation.

Her courage, confidence, and humility were inspirational. Public speaking makes my palms sweat just to think about it. My heart raced as I recalled my last experience with it, I forgot to breathe and passed out. It was the second time, after which, I stopped being asked to do the dreaded presentations. The presenter showed no signs of nervousness or fear, her wobbling was not about to slow her down or change her direction. She was in complete control of the situation.

The woman was as fierce and determined as the original Wobbles, a pet from childhood. I desperately wanted to share the similarity with her. Her struggles were familiar and different at the same time. Unique in being a human and similar in the struggle of a physical disability. I stopped myself from moving forward with my insight in class, opting for sharing in the virtual world.

Wobbles, an orange kitten, born just as slimy and weak as its siblings, never developed a sense of balance. He wibbled and wobbled back and forth through the grass and the garden, growing at the same rate at the other non-wobbling kittens. By the time Wobbles was fully grown, he was a beautiful, yellow Tom and his brothers and sisters had either been given away or met with an untimely demise.

The old neighbor man was over dropping off a bag of peppers from his garden and happened to watch the cat wobble up to the porch and start grooming himself. Wobbles fell over but continued his work on his side. A dirty job has to be done one way or another.

The old man shook his head, “I’ll put him out of his misery, if you like.”

What misery? I wondered in silence, it was still a time when children were to be seen and not heard.

My mother politely declined with a thanks-but-no-thanks and the old man left down the road with a backwards glance over his shoulder at the cat. Destiny would have her way with both the cat and the man, but not for years to come.

Wobbles grew into the best small rodent catcher in the area. Presents of his hunts were always left on the front porch rug: mice, rats, rabbits and an occasional mole. Sometimes he would be there proudly purring and grooming himself, but usually he was back on the prowl, wobbling down game.  He was in no misery and it was not for a stranger to decide.

Misery or happiness, fear or courage? They are all choices that start within ourselves. Do what makes you happy and walk away from those who would take your joy. Life is too short to suffer the fools.

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.

Comforted

Girl child with a tiny head
Wears lovingly plaited braids
Each one tied off in a colorful bead

She reaches out from her wheelchair
With fragile fingers
To hold her mother’s hand

Brown fingers interlock

Together they are strong

More to Life

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Life, for those who are older or disabled, is not meant to merely survive. 

Normal, everyday types of things like bathing and dressing can be more difficult for people living with the challenges brought by age or impairment. However, there are too many people who are just getting by day to day; people who have given up and turned sour towards living.  They are the ones, sometimes self-imposed, who are denied happiness based on the challenges of their minds and/or bodies.   There can be so much more to a day than eating, sleeping, and repeating, or at least there should be if anyone around gives a damn.

To this end, there once was an evil old woman, grown bitter from life.  Her sightless eyes roved around in her evil head as she took the world in through sound and feel.  She sat listening to soap operas and talk shows, preferring the ones where the contestants fought and speculated over which fine fellow might be the “baby daddy.”  She was doing just this one day when there came knock at the door. 

She groaned and ignored the tapping until it came again.  

“Go ‘way,” she yelled, her voice was garbled and weak, not used to speaking during the day.

It was late in the afternoon, but she wore only a short nightgown and slippers.  More knocking brought the old woman to pull herself up from her recliner with no small effort and she shuffled towards the door.  The glass outer door was locked and the heavy inner door was left open to allow natural light into the normally darkened room. 

“Who is it?” the old woman asked, standing behind the heavy inner door.

“Hi, I’m….” a young voice chirped just long enough for the old woman to guess who was on the other side of the glass door.  Before the visitor could state her name, the old woman picked up her cane and used it like an extension of her arm.  She slammed the inner door shut with the rubber tipped end of the cane and settled the matter.

The old woman smiled at her success and turned to shuffle back to her seat, when her daughter came into the room.  She wore a purple track suit with long thick eyelashes and even longer braids, reaching her waist.

“Mama, who was that?” she asked suspiciously.

“Nobody,” the old woman replied innocently. 

Her daughter gave the old woman a look that went unseen, and reopened the door.

A small woman stood on the steps with one arm hugging a clip board to her chest and the other arm was raised about the knock again.  Mentally, the small woman was preparing for the worse: the release of Hell hounds, police intervention, a spray of bullets, or simply to be completely ignored and to have to explain to her Supervisor what happened and have to schedule another visit.

Much to her surprise, the door opened to reveal a younger woman.

“I’m Linda, please come in.  She just accidentally shut the door on you.”

The small woman waiting outside laughed in understanding, “Of course, no problem.  I’m Annie.”

Linda ushered Annie in and directed her to sit on a chair with a towel over the cushion.  Annie cringed inwardly; towels on plush chairs were not good.  They soaked up spills and accidents, covered stains and rips, and were often damp with God-knows-what. 

The only other option was in the small space on the couch between Linda and her evil mother on the couch.  Annie sat on the chair without arguing.

“Tell me what’s going on?” Annie asked after she extracted a pen from a deep coat-pocket and shuffled the papers on her clip board.

“She’s sits here all day, just like this,” Linda referenced how her mother was sitting.  The old woman stared sightlessly down at the ground in shame.

Her daughter continued, “She might be blind, but she doesn’t have to be miserable.  There are things she could do but chooses not to do.” 

Linda gushed unrestrained; she was a newly sprung emotional geyser.  She wanted her mother to hear these things.  Actually, she wanted to shake her mother back into being the person she was before the world went dim for her.  Linda was a grown woman with children of her own, but she still wanted, no needed, her mother.  

The cold, hard edges around the old woman’s heart began to soften.  She heard something in her daughter’s voice that stirred something in her chest, she was needed.  A small flame, as small as the tip of a match, was lit. 

“What do you want me to do?” she growled, cautiously.

“Mama, I want you to get out of this house and do something.  I want you to stop feeling sorry for yourself,” her daughter explained.

 Annie wisely sat back in her seat and felt something sharp poke her rear end, perhaps a rogue spring. 

“I want you to do more than just exist,” Linda concluded her plea.

The old woman took in her daughter’s words like the ground soaks in rain after a summer drought. 

“We could set you up with a day program with other older adults.  They go on trips and have games, lunch is served at noon.  You could go for a few days to see how you like it,” Annie suggested.

“Mama, do you want to try something like that?”

Annie continued, “I could even get transportation arranged.”

The old woman shrugged and turned to her daughter, “I’ll try it.”

Linda sat with her chin in her hands, “Let’s do it before she changes her mind.” 

Annie rose to leave.  She handed a few pieces of paper to Linda, “Here are directions to a few places to check out.  Let me know which one you like and I’ll get her signed up.” 

“I’ll leave out the front door. No need to get up,” Annie said and started for the door.

Linda stood, “Let me walk you out.”

Annie nodded and stepped outside with Linda close behind when a voice rang out from the dim room.

The old woman yelled, “G’bye,” and then a few seconds later, “Thank you.”