Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My greatest fear

Every now and then a disability story hits Polish headlines. It always plays out the same way and it's never uplifting. I came across yet another one two days ago. A young man from a small village, confined to a wheelchair with an unknown condition is left to fend for himself after his parents' death. He doesn't have heating, he barely gets by; the conditions he lives in are hardly sanitary or fit for human habitation. He pays people to bring him his groceries. Keeps dogs that he wants to let go of but no one would take them away. He rarely gets out. The newspaper points out that a spot in a senior's home is the only thing he can look forward to. His dreams- to have a job, to make a living and to be self-efficient. "Why not aim higher- a star in sky"- people comment mockingly under the article. That was my greatest fear and a nagging thought in the back of my head for as long as I remember. What happens if something happens to my parents and they can no longer help me. I'd have to rely on the kindness of strangers and my interaction with the outside world would be heavily limited. Hopefully my story would not be as drastic. I have an education, a brother and a large family. Likely we'd figure something out. But there's no denying that in the Poland of the 90's, the 2000's, just like in the 80's I was incredibly dependent on others. My life as I knew it would end and I'd have no say in the matter. Think about this- in Poland I'm classified as permanently unable to work, as if all work involved lifting stones and mining coal. In America, I'm a lawyer in two jurisdictions, a high end profession and I'm on equal footing with other attorneys. In Poland a doctor needs to sign off on any worker's ability to fill a position and the state is more comfortable paying me a monthly check to stay at home and do nothing. In the eyes of the government, I'm useless. But I have to say that my father contributed to some of those fears. I guess he thought he was motivating me when he believed I wasn't applying myself. He was certain I should exercise all the time. If I didn't - I lacked drive or ambition or simply didn't want to walk bad enough. He left me with an image in my head at a very early age. For many years it gave me nightmares and I don't think it was fair of him to burden me with this when I was seven or eight. When mom and I are gone- he'd say- you'll end up in an institution- you'll be stuck in a bed all day with a hole underneath you to exchange the bedpans. But even without it- as I was growing heavier after my fifth, sixth, seventh grade and my parents struggled more and more to walk me up the stairs, I feared that soon it all, my slice of normality get an expiration date. That I lived on a borrowed time. You ask me why I left Poland for America? I didn't want to simply exist, I wanted to live. And owe everything I do, win or lose to no one else, but myself.

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