Confessions to my Father

According to the Brain Injury Association of America 1.4 million people every year sustain a brain injury in the United States. Of that number 235,000 are hospitalized and 50,000 die from their injury. There are an estimated 3.17 million Americans that are living with life-long affects from a brain injury according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My dad happens to be one of the growing numbers of Americans who acquire a brain injury later in life. Several years ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that developed in his cerebellum (the part of the brain that deals with movement.)
After being in the “disability field” for years the word disability, and its meaning continues to change for me. I can still define it in a academic sense but when “they” words (like disability may mean to most) rightfully and really turn into an inclusive word, it can be a bit like when one begins to feel mortal at some point: it should have been an obvious, comfortable fact all along. I guess some facts we have to grow into. We may be wired to live in the moment, but as disability is part of the human experience that many (if not most) will experience at some point the “they” part of the definition that separates is an illusion. This is my confession: I was immortal until a few years ago, but I doubt I’m the only one who has been slow to get it.
As disability is part of my own experience doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with the parts that don’t feel right, or feel different in my relationship with my dad. It is always hard to watch someone you love go though something that is painful. Professionally, I see those with newly acquired disabilities almost every day try to “redefine’ what it means to be who they are. I watch how loved ones work to support those they love to heal from brain injuries and to be “strong” for them. All while being physically and emotionally exhausted. My own opinion is that being a part of the process of helping: as a son, as a case manager, or as a friend or to allow others to be a help us is part of a sacred cross-roads experience, after a serious injury. Even with all of the chaos going on during a crisis — ironically, it can be the place where we can for a brief moment “see” others clearly, and they can “see” us for who we are. It’s a hard confession to admit to others (or to oneself) that we are fragile human beings who need support and understanding from time to time. But realizing we need others is not a sign of weakness or that we are “giving u.” It is waking to our humanity that is found in interdependence, again another example of something that should be obvious, but maybe is not.
My dad searched to find meaning after no longer being able to keep his job as an engineer (of forty years.) There was nothing wrong in that struggle, we all find some of our purpose in the things we do at work, or play. Most want to get the gold watch and go into retirement on our own terms, to still be able to do all the things we have always have done, and do it the same way.
So that leads me to my last obvious point — there are no guarantees that some of our abilities won’t be recalibrated against our will, or that it can ever happen at a convenient time. My hunch is that what will matter most to us then, would be no different than this moment — if we paused, stood still, took a deep breath and asked the question: “What efforts should I make, and what time spent will matter most to those that love me?” The answer for me personally is to make memories, and to see those I am with now more clearly, to take some time to show love, and to call up my dad – even if it is just to ask how his day went. Disability, death, and even taxes can’t take away the investment we make in new memories. If my dad can’t remember them, I can. If I forget, my children will remember, or my wife and they will feel their affects like ripples of expanding immortal influence.
So maybe in that sense the things that matter most of our humanity are not mortal after all?

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The Paradoxical Commandments

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

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Expectation + opportunity = full participation

U.S. Labor Department announces ‘Expectation + opportunity = full participation’ as National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor today announced “Expectation + Opportunity = Full Participation” as the official theme for October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It is intended to urge employers, as they seek to fill positions, to embrace the richness of America’s diversity by considering the talents of all workers, including workers with disabilities.

This year’s theme emphasizes the vision of the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP): a world in which people with disabilities have unlimited employment opportunities. Early selection of an annual theme for upcoming National Disability Employment Awareness Month helps the private sector; federal, state and local governments; and advocacy organizations plan events and programs that showcase the abilities and skills of job seekers and working Americans who have disabilities. ODEP is the nation’s first assistant secretary-led office that addresses policies that impact upon the employment of people with disabilities.

The office provides national leadership on disability employment policy by developing and influencing the use of evidence-based disability employment policies and practices, building collaborative partnerships, and delivering authoritative and credible data on the employment of people with disabilities. As background for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Public Law 176, enacted by Congress in 1945, designated the first week in October as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” President Harry S. Truman designated the (now former) President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities to carry out the law. Congress changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” in 1988. The responsibility for leading the nationwide recognition was transferred to the newly created ODEP in 2001.

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Message From Vern

AbilityNews is a newletter that I created because I wanted to help people by talking about my life and others who have disabilities. Life can be hard sometimes, but I have always had people around me that believed in me, and supported me. I have also come to understand that my wheelchair is a good part of my life that helps me access the community and meet new friends. I do not let my disabilities stop me from living my life. I can only be the person that I want to be by working through difficult things, trying my best, and deciding to add some good to the world.

I enjoy my most important job as a father — my family has shown me how to do it and I am very grateful for that. When I was little boy I had hard time with my disability and did not understand why it seemed that my challenges were different than many others – why I could not do some of the things others did easily and I thought took for granted. But, as I get older I am seeing more similarities in others than differences. Sometimes differences may stick-out more like using a wheelchair, other times, differences are hidden. Sometimes the hardest limitations to deal with are when we falsely think we have no limitations. Perfection is a burden only God can shoulder well – but for the rest on planet earth disability is a part of the human experience. Life’s experiences that are hardest (for us) have the power to teach us the most, that can help us grow, and can help connect us to others we thought were so different. 

Thanks for reading.

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