Originally published in The SUPERKIDS Newsletter, March 1996, Vol. XVI, No. 1.

I return to the cafe at school to retrieve my daily planner (I can’t live without it!). A friend enters the cafe, and as we are talking, I spot, out of the corner of my eye, a woman who has a stump where her right hand should be. Suddenly I am not hearing my friend, but filling with an excitement and trepidation that come only when I see someone who is like me.

Walking over to her, I blurt out as apologetically as I can: “I hope you aren’t offended by my noticing your hand, but I was born without fingers on my hand, and I …”

This stranger, perhaps fifteen years older than I, doesn’t know that she is my role model – just by her very existence. She doesn’t know that l am convinced that the reason I left my daily calendar in the cafe was that a power beyond me wanted me to meet this woman. I didn’t say all of these things; I don’t usually choose to expose myself to someone I don’t know. But she had to know from my demeanor, enthusiasm, and energy that her presence meant something very special to me.

She doesn’t know how many opportunities to talk to someone with a hand difference I have let slip by out of fear. I want to ask her a million questions:

  • Do you get overuse pain in your dominant side? (“Incredible: shoulder, neck, back, leg even!”)
  • Do people ask you about your hand? (“Adults, some times; kids, oh yes!”)
  • Do you use adaptive equipment? (“No, I just make do”)
  • Do you go to support groups? (“Yes: the project on Women and Disability.” Worlds of connections unfold, become revealed, shared.
  • “Did you go to that conference last month? … Please say hello to Sarah for me sometime…”)

We have lived parallel lives, shared similar experiences, all without knowing that the other existed: “It’s hard some days, really hard.” “I stay really active: bike ride, ski, swim, etc.” “I carry my bag on my underused shoulder to balance things out.” “Massages are a must- go to the Muscular Therapy Institute – they’re only $20!”

There are many questions I don’t ask her: “Do you type with one hand? Do you want to have kids? Do you think they’ll understand? Are you sad about what you’ve been through? Do you get manicures at the ‘one hand discount’ rate? Do you feel beautiful?” (She is, strikingly.)

I don’t want to intrude on her privacy or come across as needy. I just want to know her story, how she lives, her successes and failures. She used to be a drummer, part of a jazz quartet (cool!). Now she teaches part time at two New England colleges. “Can I call you or just see you again? Share my writing with you?” I think to myself.

You see, it’s just not such a common thing to meet another person with one hand, whether from birth or burns (her house caught on fire when she was four).

As I look at this stranger, my own reflection, surprisingly, stares back. I suddenly realize that I, too, am a role model.

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