"vivre ce n'est pas respirer, c'est agir."
"Living is not breathing but doing" ? Rousseau
(Transl. From the French)
Perhaps you know her?
She's been in a wheelchair all of her life, but through the miracle of the Internet, she can now bring that part of the world she can't go in person right onto her PC screen ? her picture window through which she has learned to reach out like a skilled fisherman and hook in nearly everything she needs for her various projects.
Oh yes, she has projects. In order to work on them, she has taught herself how to research, how to find just what she wants by clicking her way through millions of websites, and the more she researches, the more expert she has become in learning how to phrase her searches in order to get what she needs.
Since she got her computer, she has become an important person ? a valuable resource ? to friends and to her extended family of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Because she is chair-bound, she has the gift of time, and she has put this to good use.
Each Christmas, everyone in her family receives a wall-calendar from her; the standard 2-sided flip page kind which she herself makes. When hung in kitchens, bedrooms and hallways, the top pages features photo-collages of family members or events. The lower pages not only feature a standard block-grid calendar with holidays in red, but every birthday and anniversary notices for more than 40 family members, so no one ever forgets to send a card. The final page features relatives arranged by family, with address, phone number, cell phone codes and e-mail address for each. These are her Christmas presents to everyone; her only additional cost is having the office-supply store's copy center spiral bind each and punch a hole for hanging.
And no one in her family lacks for greeting cards to send. She has collected thousands of pictures from the net, and written all sorts of greeting-card messages and little verses. Her family and friends receive as birthday gifts from her, beautiful and clever cards for all occasions. For those who like to make their own cards, she sends interesting and unusual illustrations of the recipient's favorite genre.
A year ago she began collecting and scanning old family photos, which eventually produced a small booklet telling cute stories and fond remembrances from the family during the preceding 50 years. This success prompted her to do some family research in the various genealogy data bases and she has already traced the family back before the Civil War, with a brief paragraph, or photo of each relative. She plans to carry this back to the original emigrant ancestors, then send her results out typeset like a booklet so that those who wish can print and bind their own copies.
The youngsters in the family regularly receive emails from her containing coloring-pages, puzzles, and rainy day activities. Elementary school-age kids also get interesting learning pages too: outline maps, historical pictures and paintings and all manner of interesting items on what she calls "Fact Sheets". Older teenagers frequently ask her help in researching homework and term papers, and she can always find links which will connect them with source material. As if this weren't enough, she is busy creating a family cookbook featuring the favorite recipes of the extended family, with the photo of that person along with the recipe, which people can file or print, as desired.
A few months ago, she started a family newsletter to be issued electronically every three months. And so far it is a huge success, with news of family events, pictures and always a fun "guess who" picture of some long-dead relative. She has even learned how to set up her newsletter with headlines and columns which will pass through e-mail without losing its format. She also created a "Hometown News" sheet of local tidbits which she sends to those at college or who have moved away, filled with things she gleans from the local newspaper.
There are thousands of legal music files on the net which can lawfully be downloaded for free, and she sends at least a half-dozen a week out to the family, making sure to include music for every age group. And after she learned to use the Internet Movie Data Base, she has become the family's resident expert on films and trivia on movie actors, answering questions from everyone.
She has sent one uncle a set of plans for a dog house he wanted to build, to another went covers of the Superman comic books he loved as a child. Aunts have received needlepoint patterns, knitting instructions for beautiful sweaters and special designs for flower gardens. Nieces and nephews have received catalogues of butterflies, birds, fish and exotic animals. She seems to find something useful or wanted by virtually every person in her circle.
Her day is filled with responsibilities, so she feels a sense of purpose. Her services are thankfully used, and she has risen from a marginal individual to a central figure within her extended family. Instead of passively accepting what comes her way, she has aggressively reached out and put time to its best use ? by creating what was not there before with her two good hands and her good mind.
She still has time for chat, which she enjoys greatly, but she is not dependent upon it as her only contact with the world. She has learned the secret of time: that most people have too little to spare, and that her contributions to their world are valued with genuine thanks and appreciation. In return for her efforts, she has created her place in the active world, sharing the gift of time with those who lack it for themselves.
But when she chats, she always has something to share: a little game, a bit of trivia, some unusual website. She remembers to inquire after sick relatives, to ask after pets, others' projects and problems. She not only listens but remembers ? the greatest form of good manners. She comes like a sunbeam into the Chatroom, and after she has gone her presence is missed. She has learned to listen beyond what others say to hear the pride or sorrow or despair or joy of what they really mean. And she is kindest to those whose anger or loneliness or fear require of them a rudeness or silliness rejected by the other chatters.
She wonders how it is that some of her disabled friends can claim boredom, given the hundred-odd projects she herself would love to undertake when she can find more time. Though she never continued her formal education past high school, she has amassed an extraordinary knowledge about many things and has learned to find great books, poems and stories by famous authors on line for free. She has, in fact, become somewhat of a renaissance-woman, growing learned in a wide variety of matters. She faces no empty days, no long and lonely weekends. Her perspective on life has grown with her projects until she cannot remember those times past when she felt trapped in her chair, cut off from life. Life, her life, is what she has made of it ? giving and receiving, loving and being loved, making herself an indispensable part of the world about her.
Is she a lucky woman, freed by her disability to grow tall in the space between the trees in the forest of life that constrain her non-disabled friends and family? Is she an unfortunate victim of fate, making the best of a bad situation? The truth will not become evident until that day in the future when she is no longer there to share herself with others, but she wastes not a moment contemplating her status ? she accepts it for what it is: the opportunity to merely exist, to survive, or the duty to take on her shoulders her portion of life's responsibilities and live as humanity was meant to do ? with success and failure, plans and projects, hopes, dreams, duties, responsibilities. She has taken her place at the table for the banquet of life and not sat in a corner, waiting to be served.