Adapting for Disabilities

If I were to take an online Disney quiz this morning--Which Disney Character Are You?--I'm sure I'd be Mowgli from The Jungle Book. I'm thinking particularly of the moment when Mowgli nearly succumbs to Kaa's suffocating coils. (I'd use an image from the movie, here, but buying the rights for a Disney image is a bit beyond our budget. Please use your imagination to insert a Jungle Book pic.)

Here are a number of concerns suffocating me: killing in Iraq, chaos in Ukraine, war in Syria, Ebola throughout Africa, assault on women in Somalia, and, closer to home, the death of my dear friend yesterday afternoon. So much of the world seems out of control--certainly out of my control.

All this suffering and sin pressed on me heavily this morning, making me feel constricted, helpless. Feeling burdened and discouraged, I boarded the bus for work. Immediately I noticed something new on the bus: a PA system recently installed that announces every upcoming stop. I couldn't help but notice the new system, because it's loud and relentless. The computerized voice blared out each bus stop as we approached:
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120th Street!
118th Street!
Watertown Plank Road and 116th Street!
Watertown Plank Road and Mayfair Road! Transfer to Route 31, State Street Branch!

Given how deflated I was feeling, my first reaction was to be annoyed by the new two-block warning system. And then, by God's providence, I started to imagine why the automated voice had been installed in the first place. My thoughts went kind of like this: AACK! Is that thing seriously going to announce EVERY OTHER STREET? WHY did they put that in? Grumble, grumble. Hmmm. Why DID they put that in?

Thus I began to imagine how helpful those announcements would be for lots of folks. People unfamiliar with the bus system would feel more confident, I realized: my teenage son began riding the bus to his job downtown this summer, and he was mortified when I suggested he ask the bus driver to call out his stop for him as it approached; he would have appreciated these announcements. People with impaired vision would probably welcome these announcements too, especially if they're riding a new route. Perhaps most relevant for me, sleepy or distracted people simply could not miss their stop with the streets being broadcast every other block.

Imagining helpful uses for the new PA system ushered in something that had been missing that morning: gratitude. St. Ignatius of Loyola believed ingratitude was the breeding ground of sin. Ingratitude is, in his words, "the cause, beginning, and origin of all sins and misfortunes."* Since sin and misfortune were bogging me down, then surely gratitude would be the way to find God in that quagmire.

In gratitude, then, I began to pay attention to things around me: I heard the bus announcements with new joy; I noticed the woman in her motorized scooter and the bus driver who had helped her onto the bus; I marveled at the adaptations the bus had made to accommodate wheelchairs; as I got off the bus I appreciated the adaptive pedestrian crossing with both its visual and audible warnings. God was clearly revealing to me signs of human care. Grievous and desperate suffering still reigns in many hearts and in many regions of the world, but today, right here on my bus route, a person in a wheelchair or with visual impairments would be helped and encouraged. We need more of that help and encouragement, to be sure. I am grateful God reminded me.

Marveling at the accommodations for disabilities I was seeing on my bus route, I was also reminded of Pope Francis' Universal Prayer Intention for September: persons with mental disabilities. How often the Pope's prayer intentions coincide with events in my life! I had prayed my Morning Offering earlier that morning, and mentioned the prayers of Pope Francis. And here, minutes later, God was showing me how much progress has been made accommodating the needs of people with various physical and mental disabilities. I saw hope. I felt gratitude. In the midst of my own disabilities, my difficulties and concerns, God--my Father--sent consolation. That's what parents do.

I boarded the bus beside myself in confusion and sorrow; I disembarked in awe that my loving Father should visit me so intimately on my way to work. The creator of the universe took time to sit with me on routes 28 and 56. He likewise attends to each and every one of us. How this is possible mystifies me, but that it is possible fills me with deep joy.
God, creator of the universe, I thank you for your intimate care. Remain with me today, and help me see you in all things. Amen.


*Ignatius Loyola in Letters, No. 55. The Letters of St. Ignatius of Loyola, translated by William J. Young, S.J., Chicago, 1959.