The first time I encountered him, I stared at him, mouth agape with genuine shock on my face. He could not fail to notice my expression. Thankfully, he didn’t take offense at my less-than-couth behavior.
He introduced himself by extending his left hand toward me as if to offer a handshake. This confused me. Even at nine years old, I knew you always shook hands with your right hand. He kept extending his hand closer and grabbed my right hand and shook it awkwardly. I tried to speak, but I just spluttered. Before I could form a coherent sentence, he took up my left hand and shook that too.
He had a good laugh at the situation. I chuckled awkwardly. His smile drew me out of my stupor. He introduced himself by name and told me that he likes to shake both hands when meeting people so that neither felt left out. I think I uttered “Yeah, of course.”
That was how I met one of my best friends in elementary school. He didn’t waste time or wait for the question to grow up inside me. He told me straight away, “I have CP–cerebral palsy.”
I didn’t know what that meant. I recognized his deformed hand. I noticed that before I realized that his eyes were magnified by his inordinately thick glasses. I heard his limp before I saw it because we walked into the school side-by-side.
I couldn’t learn more about my friend’s condition because I couldn’t even pronounce the name of it well enough to ask my mom. She worked in the medical field, so I thought she would know everything about CP. Eventually, on a field trip my mom chaperoned, she finally met my friend and realized what I had been asking about.
My family moved away only a few short years later. Being so young, we lost contact. But I never forgot what CP was or how the people who have it find alternate ways to accomplish their daily lives.
CP is a condition that stems from some sort of damage to the brain early in the developmental process. People with CP exhibit difficulty controlling certain motor functions. As a result, posture and gait can be effected. Muscles that are unused or underused will atrophy causing a physical change in appearance.
Sometimes the paralysis can be quite extensive. Some people even experience hemiplegia as a co-existing condition. CP is not progressive, though there are instances when degree of mobility will increase or decrease.
With therapy and treatment, many people with CP can live happy and full lives. They can pursue their dreams and achieve great heights professionally.
I didn’t meet another person with CP until I got to college. I noticed his hand and limp as soon as he strode into the classroom. He was the chair of the department, and offered a class I desperately wanted to take, but couldn’t because of other class requirements.
The people who live their lives without being defined by their conditions give us all strength when we face our own adversities.