Richard closes his eyes tightly in the middle of his sentence and I know that he is searching for the word that will not come to his mind. In a five-minute conversation, the “pause” will occur many more times. Richard attributes his inability to consistently access words to his latent deafness. Born with hearing loss in his right ear, Richard lost his hearing in his left ear years later. With complete hearing loss, Richard lost also his job in the customer service department of a bank where previously he had been awarded a plaque for ten years of service. And with the loss of the customer service job, Richard lost his home.
We were introduced to Richard when he was a resident of a homeless shelter. Over an eighteen-month period, Richard had been relocated to four different homeless shelters, for reasons that remain elusive to him. In this fourth and final iteration, Richard lived with his son, Arthur, who attends a local community college and who aims to become a New York City police officer. Richard’s other child—Leah, a daughter—resides in the long-term care unit of a New York City hospital. A City agency had separated Richard from his twelve-year old daughter two years ago because the staff felt that the homeless shelter posed health risks to Leah, who continues to recover from major surgery involving her kidney.
With the assistance of the law center, Richard has secured permanent housing in Harlem where he moved several weeks ago. When I ask Richard about the new apartment, he states that it is “beautiful”; and that it has “brown wood floors, two bedrooms, a living room and a small kitchen.” Tomorrow, Richard will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for his son—their first Thanksgiving in their own home in nearly two years. They will visit Leah at the hospital and bring her “candied yams,” her favorite Thanksgiving dish, that Richard will make in the new kitchen.
Despite the enormous challenges that confront Richard—in addition to being unemployed, he is learning to read lips—Richard is grateful. And, for Richard, the Thanksgiving holiday is the culmination of the overwhelming feeling of gratitude that swells up within him, now daily, as he eases into his new home, supports Arthur’s aspirations to finish school and become a police officer, and plans to bring Leah home from the hospital, after living there, apart from Richard and Arthur, for nearly two years.
Richard’s approach to living resonates in a world of hearing with the musical structure of the “blues.” The composition of the blues incorporates blues notes, flattened notes that are lower in pitch to the major scale. The composition of the blues echoes, furthermore, the dynamic in life where, certainly with respect to many of the law center’s clients, there are moments that are flattened, while at the same time there are major moments of expansiveness.
Like the blues, our clients live with a sense of life’s
duality, yet our clients appear to apprehend the potential for a polychromatic
life filled with possibility. This sense of purpose, clients state, arises
often from gratitude. Somehow, gratitude is the melodic answer to the dissonance
that can accompany a disability. Thus,
our clients have come to teach that in life the aural landscape is not always
even–there are high as well as low notes—but the aim is to feel gratitude in
the midst of composition.
From the New York Center for Law and Justice, we
wish you a Happy Thanksgiving holiday and hope that you will consider joining
us at our annual celebration benefit next Tuesday, December 3rd at Loi