Cathy Chester | An Empowered Spirit

How The New York Times Is Creating A Compassionate World

I have fond childhood memories of spending lazy Sunday mornings with my parents, relaxing in our big den on adjoining plush, comfy couches. My dad would turn the stereo on to listen to whatever opera or classical music was playing on WQXR. When he sat down next to me he’d unfold the neatly folded copy of The New York Times that was delivered by our paperboy in the wee hours of the morning. Dad had first choice of which section he wanted to read. I can’t remember if he chose the front section of current events or the sports section but after he made his choice it was my mom’s turn. After that the paper belonged to me.

I was happy with leftovers.


I didn’t think about it then but those were golden hours. I loved reading the paper while lounging with my parents. The Times reliably offered something for all of us. I’d savor the Arts and Leisure section but also revelled in reading their magazine. I’d cut out the restaurant reviews to paste into my own restaurant notebook. And then I’d try my hand at their challenging crossword puzzle.

But as Bob Dylan wrote, the times they are a changin’. (Sorry for the pun. I couldn’t resist.)

The Times recently introduced a weekly feature series called Disability where readers will gain first hand perspectives from people living with disabilities. The feature will give an inside peek at what it’s like to live with daily challenges.

The inaugural piece was titled “Becoming Disabled” by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and it was absolutely brilliant. I urge you to read it. Garland-Thomson, a teacher of English and bioethics at Emory University and founding director of the Disability Studies Initiative, explained in precise detail the importance of preparing now for your future that will, most likely, include becoming part of the disability community.

If you’re shaking your head no because you disagree, think again. Depression, anxiety, anorexia, allergies, bipolar disorder, ADHD, alcohol and drug addiction, panic attacks, dementia, dwarfism, autism and traumatic brain injury are included in what the author terms “disability growth areas.” 

As time passes the definition will continue to shift to become more and more inclusive. Prepare yourself now for what your future may hold.

Garland-Thomson was born with six fingers and “one quite short arm” yet never thought of herself as disabled. Instead she learned at an early age how to adapt and thrive in a world that isn’t kind or accessible to those who are physically or emotionally challenged.  

Like the author I never thought of myself as disabled. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I was young and didn’t dwell on what my diagnosis meant in the world view. Subconsciously I must have thought I was merely someone who got a bad break and, like the author, began to learn at an early age (28) how to move about in a world that at times was unfriendly to me.

Becoming disabled while we’re young means we’re better prepared for what life has in store for us. We’ve faced and learned to live with obstacles, and that has been a great life lesson. Now we’re better prepared for life than most. At least we have that in our favor.

Years ago the word disabled had an unkind connotation. Handicapped. Different. Not able-bodied. Weakened. Incapable. Lame. Broken down. A lesser person.

No one discussed it. Oh sure, you could subscribe to medical or patient magazines but there were no newspaper headlines, no pride movements or slogans and barely any books to read on the topic.

For us it was a lonely world of hushed tones and long, sad faces that made us hang our heads in shame.

That was then. Thank G-d this is now.

The newest addition to The New York Times has me feeling hopeful. Hopeful, elated and filled with pride that our community, the one that was whispered about, will now take center stage as it’s prominently featured in a prestigious newspaper that’s provided all the news that’s fit to print since 1851.

In today’s healthcare landscape where patients’ voices are finally being seen for their value I heartily applaud The New York Times for providing another place to hear our stories. We are, after all, in this world together and have something of value to say. And something of value to learn from each other.

When my parents sat next to me on that comfy couch in those golden hours so long ago we never dreamed I’d someday be writing about living with a disability. The last thirty years taught us how to live with it as a family. Today the new norm means it won’t take newly diagnosed patients as long to find their new norm. Now they’ll have the ability to learn out loud from each other. And for that I am truly grateful.

Communication is what creates awareness that will lead to a better understanding of the human condition. Education. Compassion. Tolerance. Community. 

In the emotional climate we’re currently living in, where people are pitted one against the other, we need to walk around in each other’s shoes to create the kind of Nirvana I dream of. That’s a much better place for all of us to live.  




32 thoughts on “How The New York Times Is Creating A Compassionate World

  1. Roxanne Jones

    I trust we’ll see an article by/about you in the NYT’s new feature series, Cathy. You are an inspiration to so many, the way you give back to help others find their own empowered spirit.

  2. Joan stommen

    Beautifully written as always, Cathy! I’m happy and hopeful for you…and others who may become disabled as time goes on. My granddaughter has a seizure disorder…not serious but enough to hold her back all through high school for fear of being embarrassed. She’s accepting and maturing and in trying to boost her however I can. Your posts help so very much! Thank you

  3. Judy Freedman

    I read this article in the NY Times this weekend and thought it was excellent and what the writer said is so true.

    I too used to sit as a child with my mom as she did the Times Magazine crossword puzzle each week. I loved reading the paper and 35+ years later I still have the hard copy delivered every day. Not sure how much longer they will deliver to my area.

    I look forward to reading a story about you in that column. You are an inspiration.
    Judy Freedman recently posted…My Fabulous Vacation to Italy: Paradise Awaits in PositanoMy Profile

  4. Helene Cohen Bludman

    It is indeed wonderful that the disability community will now have a forum like the NYT to educate and enlighten. It is a very good sign of progress. I do expect to see your byline in that column, my friend!

  5. Kathy @ SMART Living 365

    Hi Cathy! What a positive statement being made by the NYTs for us all really. By acknowledging that many of us (and like you said that numbere is growing) are learning to deal with one disability or another BUT there are ways to do it as positively as possible is progress. As you and other writers keep sharing your experiences it will beneficial to all. –Kathy
    Kathy @ SMART Living 365 recently posted…Baby Boomers, Marijuana, And Aging WellMy Profile

  6. Suzanne Fluhr

    Never apologize for punning! Some of us appreciate it, even if we outwardly groan. 😉 Working as an advocate for Social Security disability claimants and having a niece with considerable special needs have made me acutely aware of the difficulties faced by those with chronic conditions. Kudos to you (and the Gray Lady) for giving a voice to this community.

    1. Post author

      Thanks, Suzanne. And kudos to you for being an SSDI advocate – I didn’t know that. Bless you for doing so. Plus I am hopeful that your niece is doing as well as possible and getting all the services she deserves. Someday when I meet you IRL we can chat about all of this!

  7. 1010ParkPlace

    The term “disability growth areas” is notable. I’m glad we have a different mindset about people who are different than we are and beginning to realize that disabilities aren’t always on the outside. xoxo, Brenda

  8. Theresa Wiza

    I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 5. I never saw it as a disability and took in stride the fact that I had to attend “restricted” gym in school. I missed some school due to illness and was not able to eat cake or ice cream at the parties because of my allergies. I felt excluded many times, but I never felt disabled. Now I suffer from a myriad of ailments, none of which make me feel disabled. The “disabled” label, as you mention, has such a negative feel today, so I’m glad that something as popular as The Times is shining a new light on something that affects so many of us.
    Theresa Wiza recently posted…How to Dissuade People from Reading Your BlogMy Profile

  9. Cathy Lawdanski

    So glad the Times is doing this. It’s refreshing that a media outlet is purposely producing material that will help us all gain understanding of an issue. Your comment about many of us being in the ‘disabled community” someday is shocking -yet true. We don’t like to think of it like that, do we. Thanks for writing this piece and making us aware of what the Times is doing, Cathy!

  10. Carol Cassara

    Anything that helps others tune in more effectively to the needs and lives of the disabled is something I support. More compassion, more knowledge and more education–all interrelated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge