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A new view

The Santa Fe New Mexican - 12/1/2023

Dec. 1—My perspective of Northern New Mexico shifted dramatically and permanently on November 4. That's the day my close friend Chris, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, arrived in Santa Fe to live with me. I stopped viewing my adopted home through the prism of, "How can I maximize my own enjoyment of this wonderful place?" and began thinking, "How can I make sure Chris enjoys his new home as much as possible?"

For starters, by paying close attention to which venues and restaurants are the most comfortable for a person using a wheelchair. I quickly learned that rides on Santa Fe's brick sidewalks can be turbulent; that many of the potential homes we had hoped to occupy cannot be retrofitted to accommodate a wheelchair; that some concert halls and playhouses are more comfortable for Chris than others, even if they're all designed to accommodate people with disabilities.

After Chris took in his first production as a Santa Fean — Tri-M's A Grand Night for Singing — we found ourselves queued up on the ramp leading away from St. Francis Auditorium behind a half-dozen people using canes. That's when it hit me: I should be writing about the accessibility of desirable locales around the state, not just telling Chris about them. I've got trips planned in the coming year to Gallup, Roswell, Trinidad (Colorado), and possibly Amarillo, all to conduct research for travel stories. Never again will I fail to notice how friendly sites and activities are to people with mobility limitations.

I'm not planning to shame anyone; I live in the nation's oldest capital city, in a topographically varied region that doesn't always lend itself to accessibility. But when a place is notably disability-friendly, I'll tell you.

I used to roll my eyes at the phrase "differently abled," dismissing it as condescending. Now I understand. Chris, in addition to being one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, has superpowers. He can enter a room and smell meals that people had eaten the previous day. He can listen to a performance and tell me accurate things about the cast members — not the characters they're playing, but their real personalities. He can utterly disarm people with a quick smile that suggests, "If I am doing OK, you probably are too, aren't you?"

I've thought a great deal of late about how we define "disability." I inherited severe depression from my mother, who died at age 38 after multiple suicide attempts over the years. She wasn't able to hold a job and didn't have many close friendships. I've been fortunate in both those areas, but I've still had plenty of experience trying to keep what Winston Churchill called his "black dog" from pouncing and devouring me.

Some people have characterized my plucking Chris from his solitude in semi-urban New Jersey — following the wrenching death of his longtime partner, Tom, who also was a very close friend of mine — as a one-sided favor. They fail to understand that another of Chris' powers is his incredible capacity to make people feel better — via keen observations, deep conversations, a wicked sense of humor, and a pure soul. It's like hurricane-force winds have pushed the storms out of my brain, and I'm excited to fill those newly cleared spaces with something better.

Chris and I are pretty recognizable: two single guys in their late 40s who've spent too much of their existences in isolation and relish the opportunity to really live life. If you see us around town, please say hello. Because you've read this, you'll know which one of us is truly doing a favor to the other.

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