It was a beautiful and crisp October day a couple of years ago when I met Chris. As Director of Community Health at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, he, like me, wasn’t officially one of a team of people spearheading the effort to renovate East Ninth Street in Lawrence. He is just a self-proclaimed passionate advocate for safe, inviting sidewalks and trails. He, like me and many others, is all for fixing the potholes and the cracks in the sidewalks to make the whole thing much more user-friendly. Chris is also an active member of LiveWell Lawrence, a coalition of community leaders who, through various approaches, hope to nudge residents in Lawrence and Douglas County toward healthier futures.
Because the East Ninth project would increase the length of some of the accessible bike paths in this town, the project fits right in line. In addition to making the sorely needed repairs to 9th street and what surrounds it, the plan is also to create an “arts corridor” of sorts, showcasing works of local artists along the path.
It’s a very cool idea.
On that fall day, I was invited to share my thoughts on accessibility.
Soon after the meeting with the team began, Josh, the architect, asked me what I would want in terms of accessibility if I could have anything. My confident response came without skipping a beat. “I want to be able to have an accessible route from my house to downtown (my driveway borders a city-owned bike trail) so that I can go get a cheeseburger whenever I feel like it. Since I don’t drive, I want to be able to do that stuff without having to have the help of a caregiver.”
Chris spoke up first. “That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, Lorraine.”
Everyone agreed, which I found delightfully empowering, to say the least. I am used to having to advocate for things that would improve my life much more intensely.
In the time since then, Chris and I have become friends. He has read testimony to the city commission on my behalf when I could not attend a meeting. On another occasion, he gave me a ride to one of the commission meetings because he thought it was important they hear my story in person. He came to a potluck that I had last November and even complimented me on my chili. We have shared other meals and lots of laughter together as well.
One of the things I admire about Chris is that he is a big runner. We have talked about how running is almost a non-negotiable thing for him, no matter how busy he is with other things, the same way writing is for me. Last night we were messaging back and forth, touching base about several issues. He said, in part:
“You know I love running and I talk a lot about it with you. Do you ever feel that I talk too much about running with you, given it is something you can’t do? My guess is no; you don’t mind it at all. My guess is you like to hear people talk about what they are passionate about, in the same way, you hope people would be intrigued and interested in your passions. But there are some people who don’t like people to talk about things they can’t do or have no personal interest in…”
Chris was correct in his guess. I love hearing him talk about his running because he is so passionate about it. The lift in his voice makes me smile. He impresses me with how far he goes. And I can say with conviction that there has never been a time when Chris has talked to me about his running that I thought about it being something I can’t do. Even though I will never run.
On numerous occasions in my past, friends of mine have stopped a conversation abruptly because they thought they were offending me when the subject was beyond my physical capabilities. What they might not understand is that I try not to spend much time focusing on what I can’t do.
Reality is that there are many things I am not able to do because of my circumstances. That is true for most of society.
Very few people can perform brain surgery. I still want to hear about conjoined twins who are successfully separated.
Very few people can climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but whenever I hear about someone reaching the summit, I am impressed.
Very few people can pitch a perfect game in baseball or score 40 points on a basketball court. But I want to hear about the athletes who accomplish those things. They deserve recognition and respect.
I am not married and I don’t have any kids. I want to hear about as many family issues as my friends are willing to share with me.
The bottom line is that I want people to talk to me about whatever is on their mind, their passions and their curiosities, without reservation.
And I will never run.