Ralph and company

The disability center where I work exists in a tight-knit community, and my job provides me an opportunity to work with various organizations.  I regularly walk to the senior center, retirement communities, the university, or the printer.   Many area restaurant managers and retailers contribute in our annual fundraiser to raise money for services to people with disabilities, and I have communicated with them at certain times of the year.  In the cross-over of efforts and sharing of referrals in this community, I’ve come to know some very good people.

Since I see folks regularly, I learn a little bit about them.  For example, I consult our printer, Ralph, on our newsletter and marketing needs and have slowly developed a relationship with him.  When I visit his business to pick up projects, he greets me personally and we chat.  By coincidence, Ralph has a disability himself–cerebral palsy.  He has overcome a lot, including an absent, alcoholic father and poverty in addition to his disability.  In spite of these things he has found his way in life and work.  A few weeks ago, Ralph told me a story that stayed with me on many levels, partly because it relates to the mission of my organization.

Ralph married a woman with three children, and her youngest happens to have cerebral palsy like her stepdad.   This youngest daughter was an infant when Ralph married her mother, and the wife’s parents chose to blame him for the granddaughter’s disability despite the fact that he wasn’t the biological father.  Though hurt and offended, Ralph stuck it out and became a devoted husband and stepfather.

Local doctors, whether through lack of knowledge or some other reason, told the couple there was nothing to be done for little Trisha and that she would never be able to walk independently.  Again Ralph ignored the pronouncement of others, and this time he stepped in where the medical system fell short.

Since there was no recommendation of therapy and few resources for the financially strapped family, he began to work with Trisha.  He held her up by her belly while she moved her arms and legs about.  He held her middle and set her hands and knees to the floor as she oriented and developed strength.  As often as he could he moved her limbs, massaged them, helped her sit and develop core muscles.  When she grew older he designed some leg braces for her and helped her to walk with their assistance.  Now she is eight, and she can walk without aids.

While my organization helps people use resources and maintain independence despite their disabilities, Ralph has accomplished a great deal on his own.  He learned the printing business and is now running his own company.  He is raising three children and doing his own brand of physical therapy with his stepdaughter.  He has used his intuition, and he has experimented.  He has been loyal to himself and his family, and he supports his community with good service.

He’s a humble fellow, without a college degree, but he’s a smart man, a man who doesn’t always accept what the doctors tell him, who believes in himself, who taps into his own resources, intuition, and ability to heal.   He is a great example of what my organization was created to foster—resilience, connection to inner and outer resources, and involvement in community.  He consulted his own wisdom and used his instincts in helping his stepdaughter, and he has tapped into some resilience and intuitive healing wisdom.

I am fortunate that my job provides an experience of old-fashioned community and the individual business-owner within it.  Ralph’s story teaches me that all of us can choose how to react to things and what perspective we take.  It also reminds me that some of our fancy higher education, medical technology, and corporate power are not of much use without the involvement of a thinking mind-body and engaged heart.  Encountering people like him shows me the value of my humble little position in disability services.  Both Ralph and I live and work in a model one would call alternative, in the best sense of the word.

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