Last week, I had the honor of being invited to Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island via NYU to give a short class based on a writing assignment and the anthology. The entire trip brought up many issues for me. I did not know that people with disabilities still reside in hospitals. By this, I don't mean ill folks, but just ordinary disabilities where folks could function alone or in Independent Living Centers. This surprised me. However, the residents were wonderful and the NYU MFA students I met where astounding. They were just the kind of students a poet hopes for - utterly interested in poetics.
I taught the class and all was fine. But, at the end was the most significant part of the trip for me. I met a woman who I will call V. I don't know what V's original disability was - but she had also had a stroke. She could only move her eyes and one foot. Yet, she clearly had all her mental facilities, was intelligent, and wrote a number of poems with the help of two (lovely!) NYU students. The way V. communicated was by pointing to a letter on a clear plastic chart with the alphabet.
I felt like V. taught me a number of lessons. Her condition brings into the entire question of the 'able' body and worth. At what point is someone's life worthy? Do they have to have movement? In intelligence? Capitol worth? Many, many people believe that people who merely use wheelchairs or have a disability slight as my own would be better not existing, let alone someone who cannot more at all!
The most important lesson was my continuing feeling to resist pity, empathy yes, pity no. And I thought about what a whiner I can be when my own life is relatively easy. I thought about two of my best friends - one lost her husband suddenly in a car accident and the other is a victim of domestic abuse, and I thought about how these two women just get up day after day and do what they need to do. And I thought - wow.
My friend Dion who passed a few years ago once told me -"fabulous people come in all kinds of packages." I'll never forget that.