This article ran in the Arizona City Independent/Edition on October 16, 2002. Since then, our feline family has changed completely. We continue to cherish fond memories of Ray Lee, Baxter, and all the kitty-kids that have brought so much love into our lives.
While I was mulling over how to introduce this article series, something happened that symbolizes exactly what I want to say about living with a disability. For the first time, my ‘fur-son,’ Ray Lee, who was born in 1991, couldn't jump onto the cedar chest next to the table where I often sit to watch TV.
Knowing he likes to sleep in the window behind the chest or step up to my table and spread himself across my newspaper, I picked him up and set him on the chest. He gratefully managed the next step onto the table, where he draped himself over a sack full of fabric, providing both cushion and the lovely crinkle of plastic.
I knew this day would come. Besides his advanced age, for half his life Ray Lee has had arthritis that began in his feet. He also sleeps a lot more than he used to, something you only notice if you’re really paying attention.
In spite of his growing disability, Ray Lee doesn't feel sorry for himself, as some humans do. We've always had at least one younger ‘sibling’ to keep our older felines energized. That role now belongs to our 2 1/2 year-old ‘fur-daughter,’ Baxter, who loves to hunt and fight.
Since Baxter joined the family in late 2000, Ray Lee has tolerated her exuberance, even when she teases and taunts him. She often runs straight at him, leaping over him at the last second. Or she walks up and bats him across the head then runs away to fight another day.
For his part, Ray Lee has taught his little ‘sister’ how to nose-kiss, and he occasionally joins her in an exciting race from one end of the house to the other. He's not altogether invalid, in spite of being an octogenarian in cat years.
The upshot of this little tale occurred a few hours later. I feared I’d have to help him up to the chest from then on, but the next time he couldn't jump up, I stood up to help him and he scampered around my chair and hopped onto the seat, a little over three inches lower than the chest. From there he made it to the table on his own. He knew what he wanted and figured out how to get it himself, in spite of his disability.
This precious cat, with his natural feline sense of independence even as he relies so much on me, symbolizes the spirit of most people with disabilities. We hate to be dependent, but sometimes we have no choice. At other times we just need to figure out how to get the job done a different way. While I stand ready to help Ray Lee when he needs it, I let him do what he can for himself so he can maintain his self-esteem.
This is exactly what people with disabilities want. We don't need to be swaddled in cotton wool, protected from every one of life's bumps and bruises; we do not want to be patronized, treated as if we can't make a decision for ourselves; and we cannot survive without someone who loves us enough to provide help when we need it. Like every human being, a person with a disability thrives in a perfectly balanced relationship of interdependence.
That balance is tricky. Where disability is concerned, people often go to extremes, for good or ill. Either they do too much or too little. Most people choose to do nothing at all, avoiding any contact with anyone with a disability.
In future articles, I'll discuss what people with various disabilities need to be productive citizens. Like Ray Lee, we might need help, but we also want to be useful. Ray Lee did that for me by being his lovable, cuddly self.
WEB EMAIL WORKING AGAIN - SORT OF: A few weeks ago, I was finally able to switch my website and email service to firstname.lastname@example.org to a new host. I still have to update them. We’re working on a long ‘Life List,’ but that task is moving up the agenda fast. I’ll keep you up-to-date here and on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks so much for all your love and patience.
COMMENTS: The purpose of this blog is to share positive ideas for making changes that will help everyone, not just a narrow group of people. I’d love to hear more ideas for imprinting positive effects over a wide range of areas in our society.