Four other pairs of eyes still closed, for a moment I just lay there on my bed, not wanting to wake my husband, John. Like most every morning my mind began to race, wondering about particular news I searched for in the New York Times every day. Quietly, carefully I lifted myself out of bed, putting my tiny feet on the ground. I heard John stirring a bit, but then watched as he turned over and continued his early Sunday morning snooze.
When you only have one toe on each foot to lead you, “tip-toeing” down the stairs is, in a word, effortless. “Hi, Mom!” Charlie was sitting on the couch playing one of his favorite computer games, Club Penguin, on our laptop. I gave him a quick squeeze noting that our eight-year-old not only inherited his mother’s physical difference but also my inability to sleep in. “Honey, have you seen my iPad?” Pointing his two-fingered hand in the direction of our kitchen table, he said without looking up, “It’s over there.”
The familiar home page of the Times appeared and I quickly moved past it, heading straight to the place that I longed to read: the Obituaries Section.
I have a confession, and I admit it’s a bit morbid……and I am not writing this as a result of the recent news that the incredibly talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died too soon from an apparent drug overdose. One of my favorite things to do first thing in the morning is to check the Obits. Why? Because many of the subjects have not only left a significant mark on this world that merits such recognition, but they often remind someone like me, born with (and parenting children with) a difference, of the rewards for persistence. And to be clear, they were not necessarily born with a difference for me to be guided by their efforts. They, in their own life’s version of challenge, recognized something lacking not in themselves but rather, in society, and pressed through blockades until that gap was remedied.
For example, this past Sunday, I noted that Morrie Turner, a cartoonist, had recently died at the age of 90. Turner was not merely any cartoonist, however. He was the first African-American comic strip artist whose strip, “Wee Pals,” with an ethnically mixed cast of characters became widely syndicated in newspapers across the U.S. Although when he started only five newspapers would carry the strip, by the early 1970s “Wee Pals” was followed daily by nearly 25,000,000 readers. And then I read that Dr. James J. Gallagher had also just died. In the 1970’s, Gallagher first noted that the public school systems were solely dedicated to children considered “average.” Instead of accepting the status quo as acceptable, Gallagher pressed on, recognizing that certain children have unique learning needs that required specific education and support. As a result, Gallagher became the chief architect of the Individualized Education Program, commonly called I.E.P., which centers on instruction tailored to the individual needs of physically and learning disabled students. The IEP is now used in schools throughout the country.
This past weekend, as I watched the Seattle Seahawks take on (okay, obliterate) the Denver Broncos, my attention was particularly focused on one player, Derrick Coleman. For those unfamiliar with him, Coleman is the first deaf offensive player in the National Football league and gained even more national attention with the release of a Duracell commercial, “Trust Your Power” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2HD57z4F8E) that went viral this past January. In the ad, Coleman’s message came through loud and clear. “They told me it couldn’t be done…..that I should just quit. But I’ve been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen.” The ad was emotional and empowering, inspiring the both the hearing and hearing-impaired everywhere. Coleman clearly continues to have his priorities straight. Last Friday night, 48 hours before Super Bowl XLVIII, he walked down the stairs at the Times Square Modell’s and hand-delivered a Seahawks jersey to a nine-year old hearing-impaired fan named Jack who was unable to find a shirt in his size before the game. Apparently Jack’s mom Samantha, whose son lost his hearing at nine months, has learned the lesson to not take no for an answer either.
In truth, whether I find their stories in the Obits, the Sports Section or the Front Page, I’m drawn daily to the lives of people who spent their time on this earth committed to breaking through the verbal or silent barriers, achieving things otherwise viewed as unrealistic or even impossible. I feel there is so much to learn from them. Morrie Turner could’ve continued drawing Caucasian comic strip characters under his mentor, Charles M. Schultz, the creator of Peanuts. Instead, he began questioning why there were no minorities in any cartoons. Dr. James J. Gallagher could have served as an associate commissioner for education in the United States Office of Education, simply working hard and maintaining the status quo. Instead, he persisted and changed the way people understood and ultimately supported disability in the school systems, resulting in countless numbers of deserving children experiencing a success they could have never otherwise achieved. And Derrick Coleman? Well I presume as a result of his continued perseverance, he and his family will be going to Disneyworld very soon, along with the rest of his winning team.
Many meet me and instantaneously see me as deficient. However, since my mission in life is to feel complete, I get there being guided by those who show me to never accept no for an answer, believing in myself to always pursue what I believe I (and my children) can accomplish.