Monday, November 9, 2009

Two Women

Karyn and Mary are the two most courageous and admirable people I have ever known. They are both wheel chair bound, yet they are the two most cheerful and outgoing people in our condominium of about 200 residents. Karyn is able to walk for a very short time with the aid of a walker, but the only occasions upon which I have seen her doing so are a few times when she has come to my apartment two floors below, in our elevatored building, to have dinner, or to bring cookies she baked, or a Belgian dessert sauce she made. Occasionally we go to lunch in a restaurant.

Karyn has a window of two hours a day when, on her good days, she is able to get out of bed or her wheelchair. Karyn, in her early fifties, looks much younger than her years. She says that one effect of her illness is to reduce the appearance of aging. I think she is the most beautiful woman in our condo. She has clear blue eyes, long blond hair and a glowing complexion. Karyn made partner in a Boston law firm at an early age. When a member of her extended family has a problem, Karyn is the person they turn to. She accompanies them to the relevant community resources and applies her considerable skills to the desired ends.

Karyn wears a crucifix on a necklace chain at all times. Her Catholic religion is what gives her the faith and grit that is so remarkable. But as the hard-headed realist she is, I think she would also say, “What else should I do? Become a lifelong shut-in?”

Mary, a strong, sturdy personality, is older than Karyn. When I am with her, my own energy level rises because of her openness and enthusiasm. She has two children and four grandchildren. Mary, too, is a college graduate and by occupation was an automotive consultant. Her job took Mary all over New England. She was active in political campaigns and played tennis avidly, often competing in tournaments. She says it is “sheer desire” that sustains her in who she is and what she is accomplishing

Most women experience stress if they can’t find the right party dress or if the washing machine breaks down, delaying the laundry for a day or two. Psychologists tell us that the way people behave on the surface is often a defense against forces that threaten self-esteem. Do not make the mistake of confusing “defense” with weakness. An effective defense is a sign of a strong, tough character. Becoming a life-long shut-in is also a form of defense, but what a difference! One is the key to living at the maximum of personal potential; the other is surrender to undermining forces. Therapists probe deeply into a person’s defenses, for the defenses tell us how a person is handling problems.

Whatever it is that fortifies people to cope, Karyn and Mary have it in abundance. An aggressive denial of incapacitation, such as they have, helps. The student voted as “most likely to succeed” might glide through life as though it was a bowl of jello. But for the Karyns and Marys, daily living is a combat with hostile forces. Karyn and Mary help the rest of us to see our lives in a healthy and rewarding perspective. Think of that when you pass a man or woman on the street in a wheel chair. In particular, give Karyn and Mary a secret salute.

Photo courtesy of schipulites photostream: Ms Wheelchair Texas at

1 comment:

  1. This is a touching and important salute you've written. I hope you are well. Lilah and I are away this weekend but when we get back we'll call. Halloween was fun. now it's cold and i have a mountain of leaves to rake