Saturday, December 03, 2016

My Left Foot

I worked as a volunteer at a special needs school for a few years, and one of my students was a child who suffered from cerebral palsy. He could not control any part of his body, and even his head was not completely under his control, especially so when he was agitated or excited.

But he had a fine mind, and was the brightest of my students. He could speak with a lot of effort, in spasmodic words, but he could make himself understood - certainly to those who were with him regularly. A sharp, incisive mind, especially for maths - and that was one of the subjects I taught him.

Christy Brown here reminded me so much of him.

Image source: goodreads
My Left Foot
Written by Christy Brown
Published by Vintage books
Ages YA

"We need confidence and friendliness as well, if not more than, medical treatment. It is not only our muscles and limbs which bother us -- sometimes it is our minds as well, our inner selves that require more attention than our twisted arms and legs."

These are the words of well known Irish writer Christy Brown, born in 1932, and who had cerebral palsy from a very difficult birth.

These were still the dark ages as far as awareness of disability and the way to help children like him was concerned.

It was his mother, who wouldn't write him off. She played with him, kept him comfortable, read to him, did everything she could for him, despite her large and growing family. (Chris was the 10th of a total of 22 children born. Only 13 of these lived beyond infancy.)

His mother was rewarded in her efforts when one day Chris reached out for the chalk in his older sister's hand with his left foot, attempting to write on her slate. Recognizing this as a deliberate action, his mother taught him to write an A. And it went all up from there - discovering an extermely bright mind below the physicality of his extreme physical challenges,

Chris learnt to use his left foot for writing, and learnt that he had the makings of a writer during a particularly agonizing time in early adolescence, when he became keenly aware of his challenges, and how he might appear to others, shutting himself off at home, and shunning all those outside family with whom he had spent a very happy childhood, like any other boy of his times.

The biography speaks of a childhood that triumphed over these challenges, including the emotional and social ones that were inevitable. Add to that the angst of adolescence that says loud and clear - that 'normal' is a relative term, and hinges completely upon the worldview of a given person. We are also introduced to the workings of society, its taboos, and the kind of medical and therapeutic care that was available all those years ago.

Christy Brown's book has been since adapted into a movie starring Daniel Day Lewis in the main role.

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