For a short while, I attempted to teach my kid to code.
Of course, the student quickly outstripped the master in ability, and I retreated back into the humbler world of liberal arts.
But in that short time, I learned to respect and stand in awe of the power of two, the amazing capabilities of binary. The base two by which we all function, long before our minds have learned to grasp base ten.
And now, days before surgery, hobbling about with a cane, I find myself, once again, face to face with the awesome power of two. The crippling, so to speak, aspects of trying to operate as a function of one.
You may not notice this in your everyday life, assuming you have the use of all your limbs, but our minds are basically rigged to work at capacity. If you have been, say, taking care of infants and children for twenty-odd years, going through the same motions over and over, your muscle memory recalls these motions and gives you signals to perform them, whatever your current circumstances might be.
So, when one of those superfluous limbs suddenly decides to go on strike, you find yourself halting, confusedly, in the realization that you can’t go through with the original plan. That would involve both hands, both feet. You find yourself, instead, having to think through the most mundane and automatic of tasks. Every task is de novo. Extremely aggravating.
Two Trips for the Price of One
I want to take my coffee and cereal over to the couch where I would like to sit. All right.
Balancing against the kitchen counter, I manage to pour my coffee, add my heavy dose of cream. I pull down a bowl, grab my cane, walk to get my cereal box, walk back, balance again, pour my cereal, move over to the fridge, open it. I pull out the milk, shove myself along the counter to the bowl again, pour. Now I must replace the milk, come back, walk with the cane over to grab a spoon from another drawer, come back. Now I can grab the coffee with the cane-free hand, and walk it to the coffee table by the couch. Then return, grab the cereal bowl with spoon, return carefully to the same table, and finally sit, hopefully within reaching distance of both. Two trips where there once was one.
Each movement is calculated as it is happening. Instead of a symphony of steps and gestures, my body instead hits one note at a time. So many pauses, so many false notes, that there is no way the sequence could be called music. I imagine, with practice, I could become more efficient. In fact, I know that many people live every day, uncomplaining, in conditions similar, or far more difficult. But for me, this is hard.
The power of having two arms, two eyes, two legs, working in tandem, fluidly, without effort: it is not to be sneezed at.
The Greater Power of Two
But the power of two is not just the coordination of mirror limbs and other body parts.
It is also the realization that, as people, two is better than one in getting things done.
Having a health issue quickly makes you realize how helpless and slow and inadequate you are alone, without the help of friends and family. A person who has been healthy and fairly self-sufficient all their life can find that realization to be quite a blow. Not being able to do it alone can feel humiliating. Others don’t say this to you, your brain simply processes the extra help as unnecessary. If only you would just buck up and do the work, you wouldn’t need to ask for help. But at some seasons in life, there is no way to “buck up” sufficiently. Sometimes you just need to smile and be grateful.
Having an experience like that can make you wonder. What if you always lived like that? What if every day you needed help of some kind, whether due to disease, or disability, or mental health issues or some other factor? What if you required help just to survive?
My mother suffered from a heart attack and said afterwards: Until the heart attack, I was healthy. Afterwards, I was not.
All the things you take for granted, when you have average health, seem more precarious and dangerous, if not completely inaccessible, when suddenly you don’t.
Which is why accessibility is so important.
It isn’t whining. It isn’t asking for special treatment. It’s asking for the same opportunity, an opportunity that cannot be seized without help. It isn’t asking that your dance card be filled, but only that you get an invitation to the ball.
I am lucky, in that an operation will probably put me back in pretty much the same place I was before I had to use a cane.
But there isn’t always an operation available. People are born needing help—all people in fact. And many continue to need help their whole lives long. People need lifelong aid or temporary help for a variety of reasons. And most of us, should we live so long, will need help again before we die.
Needing help is not a crime. It is part of the human condition.
Whole government programs are in place because of this fact. Medicaid. Special Education. ADA. Social Security Disability, just to name a few. Even the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare can be looked upon as a law that enhances accessibility. For what else is accessible in life, without the basic necessities of health care?
It is in our power to be that multiplier, that exponential effect, that allows those who need help to get it. Let us not condemn anyone to go it alone in this world.
Be generous and defend the programs that allow people who need it to receive help.
Do not let the vulnerable be preyed upon. Invoke the power of two.