As an intelligent young adult, Karen reviewed her life.
Most of the so-called experts, who were supposed to fix my life, did not look beyond the surface of who I was or who I could be, but four superlative human beings understood what I needed to thrive and to become a productive person in society. They were not detached. They were not inhumane, and they had empathic souls. To them, I was a person and not an experimental subject to be carved up into pieces, like an offering on an altar to medical profitability and pseudo-science.
Karen admired her mentors and trusted them. She treasured and adored them. They treated her with respect. Holding them dear to her heart was easy. They knew how to best treat all their students, regardless of age or disability. They never talked down to anyone. Their captivating ways were evidenced by their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Like a wave in Santa Monica Bay, they could be firm or gentle. They loved people and taught their specialized techniques with generosity.
Karen also understood that the motives of her blessed three differed from establishment doctors, counselors, and bioethicists. This threesome was not interested in finding cures. Cures were a waste of time. Karen didn’t need to be fixed. She needed to be celebrated.
She needed patience, kindness, and people who believed in her and gave her opportunities not only to excel but also to navigate the rough spots.
As time passed, Kitten had become ever more disciplined, and she wanted to continue this legacy of teaching.
She understood life far better than the average eighteen-year-old. Her relationships with Mama, Joshua, Pegasus, Rocky, and Tammy had sharpened her awareness of the world. The dance techniques she learned from Gilberto had made her aware of the world’s poetic beauty. Teaching disability riding classes had raised her compassion. And learning math from Miss Natalie had shown her she could do anything she set her mind to, even the impossible things like math.
During her younger years, Karen was impressionable, but in a good way. She had an instinct for what was right and wrong, and she let it guide her. She drew inspiration from Miss Natalie, who not only taught her math but created new ways for her to learn it. From Joshua, she drew inspiration not only from how he had helped her onto Pegasus’ back at the Santa Monica Pier Hippodrome, but from how he opened his own disability riding ranch and how he taught her to teach. And from Gilberto, beautiful, sweet Gilberto, she drew inspiration from everything she did. He taught with beauty, love, and compassion.
The paralyzed part of Karen’s brain could not transmit its commands to her affected left side. She had to get another part of her brain to perform to make everything function together. Sometimes this was easy, but most of the time it took painstaking effort. It was toilsome to use a different part of her brain in order to execute the right technique. She tried to make her paralyzed muscles work just like her non-paralyzed muscles. Control and utter concentration were paramount. Whenever Karen tried to point or flex her foot, it took considerable effort. She did not “just think it,” and feel the movement performed as an able-bodied person would. To get her left leg to work like her right leg was all-encompassing and all-consuming. To get her left side to work took all her time and attention. She executed and engaged the proper momentum in the timing and rhythm of the dance music and the riding techniques. She applied the same determination to the fundamental math skills. Everything required a dauntless approach. She let nothing stop her or get in her way. Such endurance and stamina shaped her life. She was unwavering. In dance, riding and math, every accomplishment was a feat attained via grueling, sometimes painful efforts and abiding willpower; these were the touchstones of her promising future.
Each time any of her teachers had a cancellation from a private student, he or she would call Mama and Karen. When Karen was younger, Mama would drive her to and from the lesson, but now Karen could drive herself.
Gilberto had given her six long-playing records of his lessons with which to practice at home. This recorded music helped her perfect her sense of timing and rhythm. Joshua had given her exercises to keep her back straight while riding; In addition, he taught her to stand on a horse’s back! Natalie had given her books that broke down the arcane concepts of math into practical use.
The days and years passed, as Karen attended her dance lessons, her riding lessons, and her math tutorials several times each week. As she grew, she saw that if there were to be any change for the better in her life or in the world, then she had to exemplify that change.
She was now eighteen years old. There was not one session that this young woman missed. She made getting instruction all-important. With every ounce of her strength, she worked fearlessly, and as a direct result, her efforts paid off, particularly at her dance lessons. Some of the dance steps she mastered easily, while others were more difficult for her. She put forth her complete concentration on the difficult dance steps that required arduous repetition. Kitten had always possessed the patience to master any technique. She did whatever she needed to do. She watched herself as she became an accomplished dancer.
Every day after school, she not only did her homework and remedial studies but also her dance steps and her balancing routines. In dance class, Karen worked twice as hard as the other teens. She had to in order to keep up with them. She couldn’t be treated differently. Besides, she did not want that for herself. She wanted to carry out the steps accurately. How could she stay in class if she didn’t? She didn’t want special treatment, and she did not want to be looked down upon. That’s why she had to keep up with them. Her reasonable accommodation was dance time with Gilberto, one on one, and free of financial charge from this remarkable dance teacher.
In dance, she endeavored to master the techniques with every bit of her might. She decided she was going to move more gracefully and effortlessly than any able-bodied person she admired. One day, she foresaw, it would happen when she least expected it. It would take her by surprise. It might happen while listening to a summer symphony. It might happen during recreation. It might even happen while practicing or in a recital. She was not yet there, but the time would soon come. As a result, in all her endeavors, she did whatever her mentors suggested. Because they felt Karen’s unquenchable thirst, they gave her more of their time than the usual child got. This was not special treatment, in that their approach was markedly different. It was their honest response to her wholehearted striving.
She exhibited similar dedication in her riding and in math. These new arenas of learning were difficult for her, because of the brain damage that had occurred when she was an infant. She had to work harder and concentrate longer than most people to “get it,” in whatever area she was focusing. She knew these efforts were vital to her existence; therefore, she was a willing participant in this part of her young life; for she would get nowhere in life if she failed.
As an adult, she tutored youngsters with learning difficulties. She not only danced in recitals, but she also became a dance instructor for people with disabilities. She also continued teaching riding at Joshua’s Disability Riding Ranch, with Pegasus as her partner. For years to come, she, Pegasus and Joshua taught riding skills to hundreds of people—with and without disabilities.
Original text ©2023 by Karen Lynn-Chlup. All rights reserved.