Getting what you need

In my yoga class for people with disabilities are two people from Louisiana who have experienced huge setbacks.  Both are black, and both are gracious travelers through different worlds and cultures.  Both are open hearted and brave.

What strikes me most in both their cases is their fluidity.  They travel in social circles that vary markedly from one another; one attends a white Presbyterian church and the other a Jewish synagogue, and both attend a variety of social events in town.   They interact easily with people from all walks of life, respecting the individuals they meet and often finding commonalities with them.

Both actively seek connection, involvement and the resources they need to overcome challenges and to thrive.  One, I’ll call her Sandra, experienced a stroke in her late thirties that took the vision in one eye and dramatically slowed her graduate school career, almost derailing it.  The other, Ray, was profoundly wounded in Iraq and has had to confront a long and complex road to physical and emotional healing and to regain the ability to walk.

Sandra has hit many an obstacle in getting accommodations for finishing her PhD.  The student disabilities office did not understand how to help her, and tried to extend the wrong assistance.  Uninformed of the other resources in the community for a long time, she floundered and had to ask for extensions to meeting her degree requirements three times, the third of which is under contention.  In the meantime, she has found a mentor in the community, a disabled psychologist, who is helping her manage the system.  She has connected with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which performed assessments on her needs for learning and working then purchased the equipment that assists her.  Sandra and her mentor have met with the university administrators and disability office to advocate for more time to finish her education.

Ray too has had a grueling physical recovery with many setbacks.  Having waited 24 hours on the field for help after he was hit with shrapnel from a bomb, he had wounds in his legs that would not heal, then blood clots, seizures that kept him from working or driving, and other physical and emotional scars.   He’s had multiple surgeries, many hours in the wound clinic and hyperbaric chamber, worked with physical therapists.  He has slowly improved, become more active socially and physically, and recently began to substitute teach.

Sandra and Ray come to yoga at our center as well as social gatherings.  Wanting to make the most of their lives, they never complain.  And while Sandra is seeking to help other disabled students with her experience, Ray is working as a substitute teacher and speaking to veterans about disability with hopes of working full-time as a teacher in the coming year.

Neither of these strong souls balk at the idea asking for help.  Instead, they count themselves as part of the human race, with a right to connect with others, ask for what they need, and find their way to serve.  While I might vacillate, sometimes wondering if I’m worthy of someone’s help, they walk forward and meet others, ask questions, assert themselves to get what they need and to reach their potential.  They have big hearts and are fully here, engaged in the life of their community, encountering other individuals with openness and love.  They are my heroes.

Though I am currently able bodied, I know my own disabilities of habit and fear, and I identify with this process of taking our places within the human community, of claiming our right to help, and of finding our way to contribute.  In my book, the “economy” involving exchange of talent, heart, and skill, as well as the processes of learning and growing, seem just what make our lives worth living.

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