I need to make one thing irrevocably clear: My family treats me like a king… even better. No lie. My entire family has encouraged me to pursue my dreams despite my paralysis, and that includes everyone: my aunts and uncles, my grandparents (when they were alive), my cousins, my great-aunts and -uncles, my sister and her family, my brother and his family, and, especially, my parents. I would not be alive if it were not for my family, the greatest family on the planet, and I love every one of them. I am very proud to be a part of our shared love.
And my familial memories go deep… generational. I’m proud that I got to meet and know my father’s maternal grandparents. I think it was for their 60th anniversary that the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer printed an article about the sexagesimal anniversary of their nuptial vows. The newspaper had a photo of my great-grandparents’ sitting on the couch while two of my cousins played on the floor. I remember many Thanksgiving feasts where tons of people joined in the celebrations of joy; I remember family reunions in the Indiana summer where the sweltering sun melted the asphalt but the evening’s were blissfully cool (a coolness envied by those of us who live in the South during our Tropical Season—that lasts from June to early September—where the low temperatures hover just above 70° F); I remember visiting my maternal grandparents and listening to my WWII surviving grandfather (Korean and Vietnam vet as well) as he told bawdy jokes from "Command Central" (his overstuffed chair from which he controlled his universe next to a small table that displayed, in symmetric military fashion, a small lamp, a glass container of soft brown cubed Kraft caramels, a trophy for making a hole-in-one at a Fort Benning golf course, and the remote control that directed the wooden tube-empowered color television console to display for our viewing pleasure "Hogan’s Heroes," "Sanford and Son," "Hee Haw," "The Lawrence Welk Show," or, most often, a PGA golf tournaments on NBC… Incidentally, my grandfather loved Arnold Palmer and seemed especially fond of Lee Trevino); I remember both grandmothers’ cooking… two distinctly different styles (one Midwestern the other Southern); and I dig the thought that I have ancestral connections to South Carolina, the Cherokee Indian tribe in North Carolina, Scotland, Belgium, and Indiana. (I haven’t done any genealogical research, so I imagine that my ancestral past spreads much wider.)
Point is that I have a groovy family.
Thirty-two years of paralysis has me unable to perform even the most rudimentary acts of daily living (acts as simple as pouring myself a glass of water or scratching an itch). Three decades of my family’s sacrificing time and energy to assure that I am as comfortable as I can be, and this is why I am asking for a smackload of money to pay other people to help me: I have done nothing but take from everybody, and I’ve done very little to requite the sacrifices of others on my behalf. Very often I feel guilt’s insidiously gnawing at my serendipity while family members I love happily forfeit comforts to ease my life’s journey, and I merely accept their generosity tacitly; although, I am as grateful for my family and friends as I imagine one would be as she is passing through the pearly gates into Heaven.
Before I continue, I need to shower encomium on my brother whom I love dearly. Ricky (that’s his name… duh) is the smartest person I know personally bar none. His mind somehow fastidiously grasps the minutest details of very complex challenges, riddles that are very problematic to a simpleton like myself. Ricky is currently building a house practically by himself because the contractor he initial hired is a charlatan. The house is huge because the ultimate plan is for it to lodge not only my brother and his family but for our parents, Ricky’s parents-in-law, and for me (with the amenities needed to assist with my paralysis including a roll-in shower, a tracking system in the ceiling to assist with transferring me, an elevator, etc.). Additionally, Ricky has recently had a total knee surgery replacement, which his body is rejecting, yet he and his sons are down there at the house working every day they can when Ricky is not at work or at the doctors. The house is progressing and will ultimately be completed; it’s just taking much longer than anticipated. (Incidentally, if any of you dear readers can wield an effective hammer or saw and would like to volunteer, we could really use your help.) Tanya, my sister-in-law, also helps with household chores and such, as does my sister Robin and her husband Rob, but they do all this while working full-time jobs, raising their own families, etc. Basically, I am wearing out the very people I love.
My parents are septuagenarians; their lives are waning, and their assisting me is insidiously draining their respective life sources; they need a break. Although I have requested a lot of money, I am hoping for just enough to pay a nice chunk of it to people to help do the myriad things for which I need diurnal assistance: get me bathed and dressed each morning, get me in and out of bed and into my wheelchair, feed me, take medicines, comb my hair, brush my teeth, etc. These are the things my parents do for me every day, and all I can do in return is love them.
The way I see it, I have two options: 1) I can simply accept the status quo and the surplus of help I get while silently enduring the shame of being treated like royalty, which I do not deserve, or 2) I can swallow my pride and solicit for money to help my family take care of me when all I provide in return is to sing jazz (which, admittedly, is an art form that has an undeserved reputation as being elitist and, as such, is unnecessarily reviled by popular culture), and I write obscure essays read by a handful of people. Neither are worthy reasons to prolong my life.
Interestingly, this fund-raising campaign is also a cultural experiment, a public debate about the for-profit healthcare system adopted by our society (and propagated by everyone who votes to maintain the status quo), an excessively ludicrous system that dehumanizes those of us who take many more resources than we provide. This experiment will determine how we, as a society, deal with those of us who are earnestly preparing to acquiesce our respective terrestrial manifestations to whatever lies beyond. Will we tacitly and sterilely wait for the ebony cloak of terrene nonexistence to escort the dying away from communal association or will we encourage an embracing conversation with mortality by allowing the dying to spread their wisdom to the people who cherish a lifetime of experiences from decrepit physiology.
And… for the record… I am proud to live as a citizen of one of the greatest countries on the planet (especially in Columbus, Georgia on the state border where east Alabama and west Georgia are separated by the Chattahoochee River that rapidly flows through the valley of the same name before it gaily slips into the estuary of Apalachicola, Florida); however, our country is far from perfect.
The most disconcerting problem, for me personally, is the for-profit healthcare system that our country (i.e. we, the voting citizens) currently employs. If it weren’t for my extended family, our current wealth-driven healthcare system would’ve greatly reduced my terrestrial longevity. So I have to wonder why I am so special as to be born into my wonderful family while other similarly impaired human beings become gently exploited into sedentary and drug-relegating stupor inside the antiseptic sterility of a pastorally named assisted living community that will provide the most cost-effective care for their residents but for the least amount of money. That’s just the way it is in business… even if it’s family run.
It is crazy, even to me, to think that anyone would willingly give me money just to pay someone to take care of me, but our president has set up a public funding campaign to build a physical wall to keep out a caravan of pestilent marauders that is unnecessary, and it has raised over a million dollars; millions of dollars are spent on politicians who fail to win; people give money to televangelists who live in mansions; our nation spends billions on making war machines when we already possess weapons so destructive they can easily annihilate humanity; and we voted to give the egregiously rich much more money while trying to eliminate healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions. Why can’t a few empathetic people help a quadriplegic jester who is merely trying not to be a burden on his family?
Peace Through Music