John Clapp is part of what makes the Wychwood Open Door an essential part of the mid-town St. Clair West community. WOD is a daytime drop-in centre near Christie and St. Clair that serves homeless and isolated people by providing hot breakfast and lunch three days a week, a clothing exchange, life skills, community and health information, and peer support.
Earlier this year John, worried about the declining health of WOD regular Darryl, found a wheelchair and pushed him three blocks east to The Stop’s Green Barn. There, Darryl filled out a volunteer form and crossed Christie street to the Hillcrest Community Garden. Below is John’s account of the experience…
Among the plots of fruits, vegetables and fragrant herbs in the Hillcrest Park Community Garden, a frail figure with a long, snowy beard sits in a dilapidated wheelchair, hunched over a large pot of soil and looking rather like an aged Charles Darwin.
Meet my friend, Darryl-a 52 year old man with advanced Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative disease that systematically destroys bone and muscle cells and severely diminishes motor dexterity.
Covered in compost, garden trowel in hand and with awkward, jerky motions he somehow manages to successfully transplant a few of his favorite varieties of flowers.
Upon completing the task, I ask him what he would like to plant next. He responds in his usual barely audible voice: “sunflowers.”.
Overhearing the conversation, Patti Lennox , the STOP’s Community Garden Assistant promptly provides us with a little packet of sunflower seeds and out of necessity, a crash course on how to properly plant them.
After a few false starts, we execute her instructions with sufficient care and competence and indeed for the most part, successfully (see photo above).
In fact, our success is due as much to Darryl’s efforts as to mine-perhaps even more.
Darryl’s unwavering determination to participate in the Community Garden Program despite his severely debilitating condition challenges us all to rethink our assumptions regarding persons with so-called disabilities.
Ultimately, it not only demonstrates the need for consciousness raising on the issues faced by those we call, disabled, but the degree to which, we value consciousness itself.
Darryl wishes only to be meaningfully included as a fellow conscious being and treated as an equal.
Like every flowering and fruit bearing plant, every earthworm and pollinating bee, and every life form on the planet in fact, human consciousness is the product-the fruition if you will-of 3.8 billion years of evolution.
Of all species both extinct and extant, ours is the only one we know to have evolved such a high degree of consciousness.
We have been endowed by nature with a rare and precious gift to be appreciated with grace and humility.
Should we not then learn to stop taking it for granted and stop collectively throwing it by the wayside, but rather, should we not strive to cultivate it in ourselves and everyone we know?
The Hillcrest Park Community Garden is closed for the year; but it is my hope that next spring, Darryl will be there again, garden trowel in hand, as we do our part to cultivate consciousness.