This I Believe

Ken - Waxhaw, North Carolina
Entered on January 29, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

Life Without Arms

(from Cars I’ve Known / White Cutlass Supreme)

When I was in college, I drove an illegal white Cutlass Supreme and shared a small green house with two roommates and anyone else who would stay for a while. Our house sat on a hill in a quiet residential neighborhood about five miles from the University. There was an old brick grade school down the street, which had an outdoor asphalt basketball court with one basket. On warm fall afternoons my roommates and I played one-on-one basketball or small team games on the court with neighbors.

There was a family who lived in a yellow house about three doors up the street from us: the husband Jimmy was an assistant professor at the University and his wife Laurel cared for two children whose names I cannot recall. Jimmy had no arms; not even stubs, so prosthetics were not possible. He was born armless and had lived his whole life that way.

Jimmy never wore shoes. He did everything barefoot; his feet were his hands. I was impressed by how articulate he was with his feet.

He ate in restaurants using his feet; he tied his children’s shoes; he leafed through the books he read; he wrote with pencils and even signed his name; he drove a car; smoked cigarettes with his feet and he caressed his lovely dark-haired wife. It seemed as though there was nothing he couldn’t do with his feet.

Sometimes, on the way home from work, Jimmy would stop and play basketball with us. Of course he couldn’t dribble and run the ball. But, he passed very well, by flexing his chest against the ball. Occasionally he would shoot at the basket by deflecting the ball off his knee. More often than you might think — he would score!

One evening, Jimmy invited me to have dinner with his family. He cooked spaghetti and meatballs. After the meal, his wife Laurel and I cleared the table while Jimmy retired to the porch to smoke a cigarette. As we loaded the sink, Laurel placed a thin pillow on the sink’s counter. I wondered why.

Soon, Jimmy walked into the kitchen and hopped up onto the counter, seating himself perfectly in the center of the pillow. He turned toward the sink and adjusted the tap, testing the water with his toes. He began washing the dishes with a sponge he held in his feet, placing each clean dish neatly in a rack. Laurel dried.

I finally had to ask, “Jimmy, do you miss having arms?”

He tossed his head back and started laughing loudly. Immediately, I understood that my question was ignorant.

He said, “I’ve never had arms. How can I miss what I have never had? This is normal to me.”

It’s true! You cannot miss something you’ve never had. But I believe that most of us do not fully realize what we do have.

Jimmy did.