I have a part-time job moderating a blog for Easter Seals National Headquarters, and in honor of Valentine’s Day, Easter Seals HQ is devoting the month of February to stories about “love and relationships.” My mission? Recruit people with disabilities (or those who love or have a relationship with someone who has a disability) to write guest posts on the subject.
I started by contacting a writer in one of my memoir classes. She often mentioned her fondness for a brother-in-law who’d been born with developmental disabilities back in the 1940s. Gerald died in December, and when I contacted this writer to see if she had any interest in writing about him for Easter Seals, she emailed back and wasn’t ready just yet. “Would it be okay to pass the opportunity on to my daughter Katie?”
Katie Irey started her Tribute to my Uncle Gerald post explaining that her Uncle Gerald was a lifelong Trekkie. “I didn’t know my uncle when he was a child, but I imagine he may have found some comfort in this TV community where it was okay to be different,” she wrote. “In fact, it was celebrated.”
Katie was a teenager in 1995, when “Star Trek: Voyager” introduced Captain Kathryn Janeway, its first female commanding officer. “Whenever we were together, Uncle Gerald never failed to remind me that the Captain of the Voyager and I had the same name, Kathryn, that she was the first female Starfleet commander, and that maybe I could be a commander, too,” she said. “This I believe was my uncle’s way of encouraging me to pursue my dreams, and letting me know how proud he was to be with me on my journey.
Another guest post on the Easter Seals blog was written by Bryan MacMurray, a friend I met at the University of Illinois. Bryan is blind, and he’s married to a woman who uses a wheelchair. Lots to say about all that, so Bryan’s essay was split into two. One part is about Bryan and Joanna’s lives now, after retiring to Arizona. The other part is called Every love story is beautiful, but ours is my favorite, and it explains how the two of them met in an elevator. “I realized right away this sweet-sounding girl with the slight accent was in a manual wheelchair,” he wrote. “That was fine by me — I am just a couple of inches over five feet tall, and I tended to like girls who didn’t have a big height advantage.”
Today the Easter Seals national blog published a piece by Bernhard Walke, whose five-year-old daughter has cerebral palsy (you might remember the post we published here on the Safe & Sound blog when Elena dressed as a bulldozer for Halloween).
Bernhard is an administrator at a high school situated in a Chicago neighborhood that has a long history of gang activity, marginalization, poverty, and other social problems. His wife Rosa is a teacher there, too, and his guest post is about the kinship their high school students have formed with their daughter.
I encourage you to visit the Easter Seals blog to read Bernhard’s thoughtful post in its entirety, and I’ll leave you here with a sneak preview I know will leave you wanting for more:
As I pulled into my parking spot, assembled Elena’s wheelchair, and planted her in it, I heard the 3:30 dismissal bell chime. I grunted and bemoaned that I would have to navigate my way through hundreds of high school students at dismissal in order to pick up my wife.
As I began to make my way through the halls, though, one of our senior boys who is typically very quiet and has a meek personality noticed me pushing my five-year-old through the crowded halls. He sprung to action, clearing a path like a border collie through the halls. He admonished other students,”Hey! Get off your phone and pay attention! Mr. Walke is trying to get through with his daughter.” “Javier! Can you get the door and hold it open for Mr. Walke and his daughter?” “Mrs. Walke! Mr. Walke and your daughter are both here.”
I thanked him for his unsolicited help and we were on our way to Elena’s appointment.
As we were driving back home, I marveled at the selfless love and care that this student demonstrated toward a young five-year old that he had just met. I also remembered that this student had lost his mother at a young age. It was just him and his father at home. I like to think that we both realized that life doesn’t often go as planned, but it doesn’t mean that there is any less love in it.