I thought of them yesterday during breakfast. A couple, our age, was having coffee together a couple tables away. At first he was wearing something that looked like a choker-style necklace and my immediate cattiness thought, "He's a little old for that fashion." But then as he walked by I noticed that it was one of those medical things attached to his throat, for breathing I think, that was made to look cool by the addition of a leather strap. He must have worn it for years because he and his wife seemed to be chatting and getting on fine - assistive device or no.
And it shouldn't surprise me.
Just after we moved to Toronto, Joe and I had taken the streetcar - bus out to Sherway Gardens where we wanted to check out the mall. While there we popped into a pet store and fell in love, instantly, with Carlyle. He was a beautiful white cat with eyes that had only the faintest tinge of blue. A small beauty he was and in seconds he was ours. We got a cardboard box and were on our way home.
A typical kitten, we didn't notice anything for about four days. Then one day when I was cooking supper, I dropped a pot right behind where Carlyle was drinking water. He didn't move. Didn't even look up. "Joe," I called. Sensing something in my voice he came right away. "I think Carlyle is deaf."
We banged pots, made all sorts of silly noises but Carlyle paid us no heed. Yep, we had a deaf cat on our hands. The vet confirmed that Carlyle had albinism and as an albino was much more likely to have hearing loss. "Do you want him put down?" Was the first question.
"What! Think makes Carlyle even cooler," I said. "He doesn't even know he's deaf, that the world has sounds. It's not like he's suffering." Sheesh.
Later that year, I was at school where I was working in a classroom for kids with physical disabilities, I was telling some of them about Carlyle.
Wendy, a young woman with cerebral palsy and honestly one of my favourites in the classroom, and I were sitting at the lunch table after everyone else was gone. I could tell that she was purposely eating slower. "What's up?" I asked.
"Is he, you cat, is he," she paused and looked away. I could see some tears in her eyes.
"Is he what?" I asked as gently as I could.
"Is he still, like, a cat and all. Even being deaf, is he still a cat?" There was such seriousness in her voice. I knew the question she was asking.
"Yes, he's still a cat. In fact the deafness doesn't even slightly affect his 'catness'. Why would it?"
"OK." Was all she said and she dropped the subject.
I thought of Carlyle and Wendy watching that couple. Yep, he's still a man. The disability doesn't take away humanity though in many cases I've seen it enhance the human condition.
Sad she had to ask, though, isn't it?