Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dis-abled Lives

Last night, I was awakened to the reality that lots of people in the world have physical handicaps that make it impossible to function in a so-called normal way that most of us are accustomed to. I had forgotten how fortunate I am not to have a physically disabling condition that would render my interactions with the world far more difficult.

So, last evening, I had the privilege of meeting a fellow named Victor, who enjoys the use of very few muscles due to a seriously incapacitating form of muscular distrophy. In order to get around town, he needs friends to chaperone his hooked up van with an electro lift, and in order to get upstairs to chill with us, we had to guide Victor through the building's back entrance to the elevators since his highly versatile and mobile electric wheelchair cannot scale stairs.

In addition to transportation difficulties, Victor faces enormous challenges in breathing, dressing, eating, and most every other imaginable ordinary human pursuit. This leads me to respect him ad infinitum. I cannot conceive of how serious physical handicaps allow for "normal" lives, but I suppose people generally attempt to make the best of what's on their life's plate.

Berkeley, the alternative, colorful, and iconoclastic hamlet where I reside currently, has historically been a mecca for both physically and mentally handicapped people, who have access to community services and sensitive legal structures that ease their lives. For those of us who don't have friends or family in the position of requiring such extensive social aid, I think it's rather difficult to fathom the handicapped lifestyle. At what point does one come to terms with a debilitating condition? Is it something that one gradually is uplifted by or does the passing of the years wear one down to a greater extent? Of course, there are the FDRs and Larry Flynts of the world who manage to get by in wheelchairs; there are Cambodian and Bosnian landmine victims who overcome interminal adversity to lead satisfactory lives.

Do handicapped people have recurring dreams of being "normal" again? Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump certainly never acclimated to his disabled state. Maybe the ability to be satisfied with your abilities varies according to whether you were born with the condition or experienced a life-altering catastrophic event that initiated your disability. Vision problems, nervous disorders, heart conditions, lung deficiencies, brain damage: the list is unending of how the human body can fail, leaving one vulnerable to the generosity that one's social network and society are willing to provide in order to make moment-to-moment existence more favorable.

It really is paramount to realize our good fortune and to attempt to take advantage of the finite abilities with which we are endowed. We could all be chopped down from our heights of greatness. There will never be a fully satisfactory answer to the queries posed by the Book of Job. Bad fortune strikes at will.

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