Let’s Get to Worth

The true measure of a person goes beyond the world of work

When I first met Joseph Kuciauskas eight years ago, he was able to operate the joy stick on his wheelchair and, surrounding a pencil with a fist, he could, painstakingly, produce a legible script.

His muscular dystrophy had contorted his hands, making them more like the claw-like extremities of an anteater than yours or mine. Still, he was industrious.

I once helped him write City Hall seeking curb cuts that would make his trip from the bus stop to his school easier and less dangerous. We prevailed. We wrote county officials asking that a subsidized system of public transportation be maintained. It was. Thus encouraged, Joseph was ready to write Oprah Winfrey and the president of these United States on behalf of persons with disabilities. Perhaps we should have.       

Joseph attended a service-learning charter school for disabled young adults and joined classmates in swamping out a nearby high school after every lunch hour. He wasn’t content to wipe down tables, a task for which he was poorly equipped, so he conspired with buddies to affix a janitor’s broom — you know, the kind that looks like a giant Swiffer — to the back of his motorized chair. Joseph moved about that cafeteria like a farmer disking his fields.

No longer.

Joseph is homebound these days. The dystrophy’s advances have made it difficult for him even to breathe.

I reflect on Little Joe, a man who never contributed a dime to the Gross State Product, and recognize that he nonetheless has had great value. He changed the world in meaningful ways, modeled tremendous resolve despite his limitations and was for me and countless others a big-time inspiration.

Mr. Kuciauskas demonstrates that we must move beyond “Let’s Get to Work” to “Let’s Get to Worth.” We should embrace the notion that we were all born a miracle with inherent value and dignity and, personally, I’m inclined to extend that outlook to include every living thing, every unspoiled vista.

The other day, I read an anecdote among those collected in Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” It concerns Donnie, a deaf boy who went door to door and, with paper and pencil, negotiated leaf-raking jobs.  Approached, Fulghum was reluctant. Like me, he likes leaves. Describing the matronly trees in his yard, Fulghum writes, “The leaves lie about the ladies’ feet like dressing gowns they’ve stepped out of in preparation for the bath of winter.”

Why choose to rake away such a metaphor, unless approached by a deaf boy with a harmless proposition? (Fulghum relented. Commerce proceeded.)

I was unsurprised, but disappointed nonetheless, to read in the daily that our state government harbors an environmental protection secretary who would allow logging, cattle grazing and hunting on state park lands so that they might be made financially self-sustaining. So much for stewardship. Here we find instead the kind of thinking that channelizes rivers and decapitates mountains. No allowance is made in the secretary’s equation for the inherent value, immemorial specialness and restorative powers of the natural world.

Dude. Let’s get to worth.

And, let’s all of us make contributions to the sense of self-worth of the people we meet. There will be fewer shootings that way.

There is dignity in work, yes. But validation yields a person who is both more productive and … better.

Categories: Director’s Column, Opinion