Thursday, November 25, 2010

My left foot...

It is again Thanksgiving, a year since I starting writing this blog. I began with some fear and trepidation, I must admit, though it is hard to pinpoint why. Although I have long liked to write, I have generally been a rather private writer, putting my deeper feelings into a journal or on a scrap of paper that gets tucked away. I cannot say that I have been totally anonymous however, having written letters to the editor since I was a teenager, but somehow starting this blog seemed different. I began with the notion of writing some encouraging words to my patients for times I was not available but, as soon as I started writing, it became something more: a sort of spiritual symphony that I didn't seem to be orchestrating. Once I noticed that, my fear eased and I had only to make the time to allow it to happen. There were words that needed to be written and I realized that the story was not about me.

Speaking of stories, there is one that came to mind as I wondered what I would write this Thanksgiving. Years ago, when I was in college, I became friends with several people with physical disabilities who were activists, striving to be heard in world that largely ignored the disabled. I learned of a book, an autobiography published in 1954, by a man named Christy Brown. Christy was born in Ireland in 1932 with a severe physical disability (cerebral palsy) that left doctors thinking he was incapable of any intelligent thought. He didn't have control of his spastic muscles and could not even hold his head up as a young child. He could not speak and his siblings moved him about in small cart because he could not walk. However, his family, ignoring medical recommendations to institutionalize him, raised him as they did their other many children. When Christy was 5 years old, he surprised everyone by grabbing a piece of chalk from his sister, using his left foot. He struggled to write the letter "A" on the ground. Although his condition was not curable, once he made known that he could communicate, there was little holding him back. He typed his autobiography with his left foot, the only part of his body over which he had enough control to attempt this task. He also learned to paint with his left foot. Hence, the title of his book, "My Left Foot", which was made into an award-winning film by the same name in 1989.

As I reflect on this past year this Thanksgiving day, I am struck again by how many things there are to be grateful for. Each year, of course, has its challenges as well as its joys, and not always in equal proportions. But there are always simple things, things so basic to our lives that we often do not notice them or think to consider them "gifts". I can walk. I can talk. I can hear (most of the time). I can see. I can read. I can write. I can breathe unassisted. I have a home to live in. I have access to clean water. I have food to eat. I am loved. I am able to love. I have so much that the list could go on and on. For me, each of these things is just a natural part of life. But that is, of course, not so for many people. Some who are reading this may be lacking in one or more of the gifts I take for granted. Yet each of us has some of these "simple gifts" and it is a celebration of them that I would like to share today.

To celebrate the simple gifts, I would like to share a brief video (below) where I am celebrating the simple movement of my muscles to the Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts", written by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848. Note that I am claiming only to move, not to dance, as I am not claiming any skill or talent. Thinking of Christy, I begin my movement with my left foot, out of gratitude that I can move it - and the gratitude then moves through my body with the song. If you are able to move, celebrate thankfully with me by moving too, even if just a hand or a foot. Or sing (the words to Simple Gifts are printed below). If you are thinking you cannot sing, remember that I cannot dance. But I do it anyway. Out of gratitude...

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right