Monday, March 27, 2017

David Norris writes

When Living Gets Hard

A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the Beach

She turns them over in her slow hands,
 as did the sea sending them to her;
broken bits from the mazarine maze,
they are the calmest things on this sand.
The unbroken children splash and shout,
rough as surf, gay as their nesting towels.
But she plays soberly with the sea's 
small change and hums back to it its slow vowels. 
--Richard Snyder

Insensitivity wears many guises. I want to believe that most of us do not hurt the feelings of others intentionally, that it occurs because we are not thinking, that we are caught up in our own affairs, or perhaps that we are simply unaware of a situation or someone’s personal struggles.

I have a friend who is one of the bravest and most determined people that I have ever known. She is a Korean in her 50s, plus or minus. She has spent almost all of her life on crutches and in braces, a childhood victim of polio. Growing up in a society that was kind to neither women nor the disabled, in a country where the schools were not handicap accessible, in a culture where her opportunities for marriage and children were already gone before she was old enough to have either, and not coming from a rich family, her life seemed already defined and doomed to failure while she was still but a child. 

Overcoming incredible odds, she has gone on to receive a doctor’s degree in literature from an American university, become a much-loved teacher and published writer, one of Korea’s favorites, who is frequently on the best-seller list, and an outspoken advocate of equal treatment for both women and the physically challenged. She also zips around Seoul in her car, controlling the brakes and gas with her right hand while steering with her left. In fact, she drives better in Korean traffic than I do.

One day I was telling someone at work that I had finally had the opportunity to meet her after having read her for a decade, and he asked, “Who is she?”

At that time, an acquaintance that happened to be standing nearby said, “She’s a cripple who used to write a column for the Korea Times.” 

I talked to my friend recently. Two weeks ago she was at a bank near her home. A man came hurriedly out of the building and accidentally kicked her crutches out from beneath her. She fell. They called 119 and the emergency squad took her to the hospital. She missed two weeks of work and is still wearing a neck collar. She says, “It hurts to even brush my teeth.” 

When asked, the young man who caused her to fall replied, “I only kicked the end of her crutch.”

* * *

My little nephew Michael spends a lot of his time in a wheelchair. The only things he can move are his head and his arms. We have to feed him with a tube that runs into his belly. Even thus, he smiles a lot and laughs out loud in a delightful fashion. He has the face of an angel, smooth creamy skin the color of alabaster, long dark hair and eyes as blue as the Virginia mountains in which he was born. He is a gentle soul with an eye for pretty ladies. 

My sister has a giant TV, and Michael will lie in front of that TV when he is home from school and before bedtime and between bath time or meal time or diaper time. He likes the shows with the pretty women on them. He loves Bay Watch. If he is watching one of his girlie shows and I click the channel-change button, he will holler out in disapproval. God Bless the little man. His body may not work, but he has a gentleman’s appreciation for the feminine aesthetic.

Lori has her hands as full as any human being you will ever meet. Three handsome sons. A mother’s dream. Yet, that is where my sister’s sadness lies. Her two youngest sons have special needs, Michael’s the more severe. 

She takes Michael down to Richmond for his hospital visits about every other month. She and Michael were down there one hot summer day waiting their turn. She had wheeled him out onto the alcove to enjoy the warm weather for a while. They were both thirsty, so she walked back into the lobby to the soda machine.

Michael was doing fine, he was sitting there in his wheelchair watching a little boy, an unbroken child, running and playing with his pet dog. When Lori returned to Michael’s chair with his soda, there were tears running down his cheek. 

It takes courage to live when the going turns hard. 

 Image may contain: 1 person

Cheonan Memorial Park: David Norris at the grave of Chang Young Hee, the author he discussed in this essay

1 comment:

  1. Jang Yeong-hui [Chang Young Hee] was a South Korean professor, scholar, translator, and essayist. Her father was Chang Wang-rok, a noted scholar of English literature (whom, by the way, I worked with when we both taught at seooul National University in the late 1980s). When she was one year old, she contracted poliomyelitis, which caused paralysis of both legs and right arm. She majored in English literature at Sogang University, a leading Jesuit school in Seoul, finishing her Master's degree in 1977, and got her PhD in 1985 from State University of New York at Buffalo, before joining the faculty at Sogang. She was a long-time contributor to the "Korea Times" (South Korea's oldest English-language newspaper), and many of those essays were collected as "Crazy Quilt." She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, which metastasized into her spine; she died in 2009, at 57.


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