Archive for June, 2007


 Zeinab, from Lebanon 

Just to illustrate some of the things International Orthodox Christian Charities has been doing to help and enable people with disabilities:


“The crowded top floor of the Beita Charitable Society near Nablus bustled with activity: women organizing and tidying up, elders from the village council escorting us through the new work areas, and a young man preparing chai, the traditional Palestinian tea and a staple of village hospitality. … My gaze drifted to the Society’s construction area where a group of young men – local workers employed under the emergency employment program – were mixing cement and laying electrical wires. Their smiles and lively conversations revealed relief at having found employment after perhaps two years without. I noticed one man, in his middle twenties, who appeared to be the construction foreman. Efficiently giving instructions, he looked different than the others: considerably thinner, his right arm was curled and he walked with a noticeable limp.

I called over Dr. Nasser Jaghoub, chairman of the Beita Charitable Society, and enquired about the young foreman. He explained that Saher A’ddeileh had suffered infantile paralysis as a result of polio. This left his right limbs disabled and his confidence shattered. Dr. Jaghoub explained, ‘Coming from a large family with limited resources, he always felt as though he didn’t fit in because he was unable to work and contribute to the family financially. So, you can imagine when we approached him with a job training opportunity, at first he thought we did so out of pity. But he joined the course anyway, and quickly mastered the “how to’s” of staff supervision, work evaluations, receiving and completing assignments for contractors, and financial accounting. Almost immediately, his morale improved.’

Dr. Jaghoub smiled contently at how this program had changed the life of a young person. “Since the training course finished, Saher has been overseeing our site work here. He also takes on additional duties on a voluntary basis. His contribution is appreciated by everyone.” For a few moments more, I continued watching Saher, unable to restrain my admiration.

On a subsequent visit to the Beita Charitable Society, I again enquired about Saher, the promising young foreman. With delight I was told that he had recently achieved another “milestone.” For the first time in his twenty-five years, Saher participated alongside his family in October’s olive harvest. I couldn’t help but smile, pleased by the news of the impact of our work.

Zeinab is a widow, and lost the use of her legs eight years ago. She has seven children between the ages of 13 and 40 whom she relies on for support. “If they work, that is good. If not, we try and manage.”
In the nearby village of Hebbariyeh, Kassim is also sitting on the floor. He is nearly 90, blind, hard of hearing and cannot walk without assistance. Kassim, his 85 year-old wife, and their grown daughter have no income, living solely off what they grow on their land.
Taish and Kassim are representative of IOCC’s beneficiaries in the South – the disabled, the elderly, families without incomes – in short, those most in need. Asked if there are other families in the village in similar circumstances, Shawki Youssef, Hebbariyeh’s mayor, replies that there are many, and that IOCC was the only organization to provide assistance after the war specifically for the disabled.
“We chose the most vulnerable from each village because they often face challenges even under normal circumstances, let alone after a war,” says Linda Shaker Berbari, IOCC Lebanon Program Coordinator. “In the case of the disabled, special medical needs can put a great financial burden on families,” she continued. The cost of eye drops for Kassim – $40 a month – “is killing us,” says his daughter. The family’s kitchen was badly damaged during last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hizbullah, as was their water tank. Like other families in the region, they cannot afford to repair the damages themselves.
More than 3,500 families in southern Lebanon have been directly assisted by IOCC since last summer’s conflict through a grant by the U.S. Government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). In the immediate aftermath of the war, IOCC gave each family hygiene parcels and blankets. In the months since, they have received a four month supply of diesel fuel to heat their homes during the winter. Kassim and his family received a heater and Zeinab received a stove – it’s the one she is cooking on when her guests arrive. Most recently, both families received carob, almond and olive trees, vegetable seeds and agricultural tools, as part of IOCC’s agricultural support to families in the region.
And yet, while each family bears great hardship, each is touchingly grateful. Asked by Zorba what she hopes for from the trees, Zeinab responds, “Anything they provide, I thank God for.”
The IOCC is listed under Orthodox Christians Ministries in the “Resources” section of this website.

Mark O’Brien

Mark O’Brien

1949 – 1999

Grasping for straws is easier;
You can see the straws.
This most excellent canopy, the air, look you,
Presses down upon me
At fifteen pounds per square inch,
A dense, heavy, blue glowing ocean,
Supporting the weight of condors
That swim its churning currents.
All I get is a thin stream of it,
A finger’s width of the rope that ties me to life
As I labor like a stevedore to keep the connection.

“From “Breathing”, a book of poetry by Mark O’Brien

Mark O’Brien, poet, journalist and inspirational voice in the movement of disabled people to lead independent lives, died early Sunday morning, July 3, in his home in Berkeley, Calif. Mr. O’Brien was 49 years old.

Born in Boston and raised in Sacramento, Calif., O’Brien was six years old when he contracted polio which left him paralyzed from the neck down. At the time of his death, he was one of some 100 polio survivors in the United States who still used an iron lung to breathe. The 1997 Academy Award-winning documentary, “Breathing Lessons,” directed by Jessica Yu, described O’Brien’s long struggle to escape hospitalization and his often comic determination to live on his own and work as a writer.

In 1978 O’Brien moved from Fairmont State Hospital to Berkeley, after being accepted as a freshman at the University of California. He became a familiar figure on the streets of Berkeley, navigating his motorized guerney between the campus and his tiny apartment which housed his iron lung.O’Brien received his BA in English literature in 1982 with the support of note takers, home health-care attendants and the then-fledgling Center for Independent Living. After repeated efforts, O’Brien gained admission to UC’s Graduate School of Journalism, helping to set a precedent for severely disabled applicants to state universities. Although a serious health setback prevented him from pursuing his graduate degree, O’Brien began his career as a journalist with the publication of an essay on what leading an independent life means in Co-Evolution Quarterly in 1979.

Initially, he composed his pieces by dictation, then he learned how to type with a mouth stick, first on an electric typewriter, later on a word processor.His first collection of poems, “Breathing”, was published by Little Dog Press in 1990. O’Brien considered it one of his proudest accomplishments. He completed two later volumes of poetry — “The Man in the Iron Lung” (1997) and “Love and Baseball” (1998), both published by Lemonade Factory, an independent small press he co-founded in Berkeley with Susan Fernbach..A long-time editor of Pacific News Service, O’Brien published essays, book reviews, news stories for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Examiner, and the National Catholic Reporter. He wrote about sports, religion (he was an ardent opponent of euthanasia), and the culture and politics of being disabled. (In one piece he writes about coping with the fleas from an alley cat that shared his one-room apartment for many years.)

His twin passions, according to film-maker Jessica Yu, were baseball (specifically the San Francisco Giants), which gave him entree to the sports culture of his peers, and Shakespeare. O’Brien delivered the 1998 commencement address to graduates of Berkeley’s English Department.

As an advocate of the “independent living” movement, O’Brien emphasized the universal need for human beings to have a measure of control over their own lives. “I want people to think of disability as a social problem…Everyone becomes disabled unless they die first.”

O’Brien spoke candidly on film of his struggle to overcome loneliness. “You can’t make someone love you — you have to be lovable yourself,” he said, adding that he wasn’t convinced he knew how to do that.

By the late 1990’s, O’Brien’s failing health restricted him to the iron lung for all but a few hours of the week. But he continued a correspondence through Email and regular postings on The Well with a world-wide circle of friends and admirers.

It was his sense of longing that connected him so powerfully with others, said PNS executive editor Sandy Close. “He demanded and expected very little, and maintained a sense of wonder about everything good that came to him.”

In “Breathing Lessons,” O’Brien acknowledged his gratitude to his parents, Helen and Walter O’Brien, for the care and love they gave him. He remained at home until he was 27.

“His Catholic faith — a portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe hung always within sight — sharpened his humor and left visitors wondering who was crippled, Mark or themselves,” said Close.

Mark O’Briens’s efforts demonstrate that persons with profound disabilities have gifts to give that enrich humanity. We are all the image of God together. Another poem:

The Rower

Upon hearing what had happened,
Jesus withdrew privately by boat to a
solitary place.–Matthew 14:13
Bad news for sure,
John’s stern, wild-maned head chopped off
And left gasping on the straw
By Herod, that baffled, frightened, smalltime king.
If John could see the swift, hard ax descend,
Feel it slice through his neck-hair, skin, windpipe, and spine,

And in his rag of dying time
Think about it,
Consider Herod with amusement, contempt, rage,
Whatever tempers were available to him,
Then perhaps I could do the same
In the event that this sly bloodhound
Should favor me with such royal hospitality.
Not now, I thought, not now,
I muttered to myself, walking quickly, nervously,
To this lake, to this dock,
Where this sullen, bored man rents boats for cheap,
Even to the crazy-but-harmless,
To push out upon the flat water.
I push these heavy oars down and through
Dark, rippling reflections of sky,
Oars not as heavy as grief or fear, let alone death.
They give a lasting ache to my arms,
An excuse to complain about something unimportant.
Here, in this old boat,
With its mean splinters biting into my thighs,
I rent a few hours of peace and solitude,
Two things I’ll never own.

A Webpage: The Poetry Foundation: Mark O’Brien

A Video (1 min., 43 sec.):

the incarnate Word & DAO

When the eyes of our hearts became disabled, God became man in tangible form. The Orthodox Church, in the 8th and 9th centuries A.D. defended the imperative to express this in visible form in her worship and veneration of Christ, His most blessed and holy mother Mary, the Theotokos, and the saints.
And the imperative also remains to bring out the gifts of people with disabilities in this (the arts) and in the Church’s other tasks.

Toward this imperative, the website DAO- Disability Arts Online- is presented as a resource.

The website is not geared toward an Orthodox understanding of the meaning of art, but it does reveal the great potential people with disabilities can have in regard to artistic expression. Obviously, not all persons with disabilities can become iconographers, which is our central form of artistic expression, but their gifts in this realm can be encouraged in other forms both in the Church and in the community.

Five blocks of white stone of different dimensions face each other in a loose circle.Model of Squaring the Circle by Tony Heaton, a leading artist with a disability (Impaired by a spinal injury at 16 )

learning together

John Boojrama asserts that the western Sunday school model, which the Orthodox Churches have adopted, in effect force-feeds children with theology that they are not ready for, and recommends family-centered discussion time instead (Foundations For Christian Education,15, 77). He also suggests that formal catechesis should proceed with the emergence of abstract reasoning ability at about the age of thirteen (40). But what of those who never reach this stage? Should separate, simpler catechesis lessons be developed for them? This line of reasoning coincides with the tendency of the parents of normally abled children to fear that differently abled children will interfere with their child’s learning, and then advocate for separation. Children themselves tend to be more accepting of differences. If this reaction and advocacy is resisted, the differently abled and normally abled children will grow up through Church school together, and the normally abled child will receive the indispensable gifts of the weaker member, the differently abled child—such things as the gift of patience with the differences of others, seeing the world from another point of view, and many other intangible gifts. And the differently abled child will be a living stone built into the wall of the Temple of Christ, rather than in the special little chapel out back, where he will feel different and apart. “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matt. 25:35). A child that is disruptive needs help; a teacher’s assistant trained for the unique situation would be helpful in such a case. Everything possible should be done to make Matthew 25:35 a reality in Church School. And the differently abled child will be given an opportunity to grasp the complete curriculum and catechesis as best they can, in their unique way. There may be more absorption than the evaluation tools that are used can measure.” from St. John Chrysostom and the Socialization of Persons with Developmental Disability: Patristic Inspiration for Contemporary Application by William J. Gall (click on THESIS ) UPON REFLECTION- What is “normally abled?” In light of insights from the “multiple intelligences” people (See blogroll on the right) NORMAL is really a community kaleidoscope of variously abled people supporting each other. True, we are all to reflect one and the same image- that of Christ; but in various ways. At the risk of being redundant I would again direct readers to 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul’s picture of how the Body of Christ functions. One thing for sure: we are all differently abled.

remembered contributions


Fame is overrated. But these folks accomplished things that have been considered worth remembering. Some, more precisely, were infamous.

But the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky were an important part of my pilgrimage to God and my remembrance of my baptism into Christ:

Fyodor DostoevskyDOSTOYEVSKI Fyodor, 1821-1881, (epilepsy),
Russian author. Had three convulsive seizures as a child and complex partial seizures in adolescence. His seizures began with a feeling of ecstasy, followed by anguish, then convulsions. His characters had epilepsy in some of his writing. Wrote novels which were published after his death Crime and Punishment 1886, The Idiot 1887, Brothers Karamazov 1912.

For the full list of famous persons with disabilities:


My buddy Glenn works at the Homefields Farm, affiliated with Goodwill Industries in Lancaster, PA. He grew up on farms and knows his way around. Others at the farm learned their way around. Glenn works hard. He enjoys working. At the supper table he will often tell, with enthusiasm, the things he did that day- in detail.

This picture says a lot. People with disabilities can be fruitful in many ways. With the right job training, they can be productive. Glenn works for Goodwill Industries: one of a number of job training organizations in the U.S.

And such efforts can be found around the world. In England, you will find the Shaw Trust:

A specific provider of skills training in Kenya: the Matumaini Rehabilitation Center:

In India, you will find the Association of People with Disability: In the picture below from Koshuvalloor, Kerala, India, Rosamma receives instruction in the craft of broom-making at the Theeram Center, a division the India Center for Social Change (ICSC)

You can tour such efforts around the world at Workability International:

Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us a great commission, to baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to teach all that He commanded us. (St. Matthew Twenty-Eight) And the Orthodox Church, as His Body, is called to see that all her members have a place in the Church, (1 Corinthians 12) and to help them to fulfill God’s purposes for themselves in the eternal life in Christ into which they were baptized, a participation in divine life (by adoption) which begins now in this present life, seven days a week. And these efforts at vocational training would be a part of this. It may not be the Church’s “job,” but we can offer support and encouragement to families to help their members with disabilities “leave the nest” and struggle toward their full potential as persons in Christ.



An excerpt concerning “sainthood” from her story, written by her mother:

I always thought parents who looked after disabled children were saints, that you had to be a special kind of person. Now I know that isn’t true. I am not a special person. I am certainly not a saint. At times I feel frustrated and angry and resentful and sad and I wish I didn’t have to do it. I feel envious of parents of children who don’t have any problems. I feel it is unfair that most children learn things so easily and my daughter has to struggle so hard.

But at the end of the day, I do cope. More than that, I enjoy my daughter. And that is because of Willow and the love that a mother has for her child. When people ask me how I do it, I usually just reply “She’s my daughter”.

I would add that the sacrifices these parents make according to Christ’s pattern put them on the road to sainthood. St. Maximus the Confessor spoke of the imperfect perfection of the saints.

For Willow Bush’ full story:


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