January 22, 2006.
The Boston Globe.
Never mind that she has dark blond hair and light blue eyes and the fairest of skin. Or that in four weeks she'll be 17. Or that she was in love, seriously in love, and that was good, that was great, but then it was bad and now, well?
What matters most to this girl who is teetering on womanhood isn't her hair or her impending birthday or her boyfriend. It's her writing.
''Writing is my heart and my life," she said over lunch at her school last week. We sat at a table by ourselves, after an assembly for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We had just 40 minutes. They felt like 10. We talked about reading and authors and craft and making a living, and she said, very pragmatically, that she was going to study to be a lawyer because then she could support herself and because ''lawyers have to do a lot of writing."
But ultimately? The bottom line? What does she want out of life?
''I want to be someone who writes something really good."
She didn't say, ''I want to be a famous writer," or ''I want to be rich," the usual sentiments.
Instead, it was, ''I want to be someone who writes something really good."
What she doesn't know is that she's already on her way.
Katie Condo won a speech competition at her school last fall. ''Family is everything to me," her speech began. ''I'm 16 years old and I was born with a condition known as cerebral palsy, which confines me to an electric wheelchair. To most people, cerebral palsy would be a devastation to themselves and their families, but my family is special. . . . My family's positive attitude has carried me throughout my entire life, so I am not daunted by this big metal machine I sit in every day and neither are they."
She is not daunted by her limited sight, either. She doesn't even mention this.
You don't see the best in human beings in the best places -- in five-star hotels or luxury spas or in fancy cars or private clubs where you have to pay thousands of dollars to belong. What you see there is decoration.
You see the best in human beings in some of the most humble places -- in hospitals, in rehab, in schools, in nursing homes, and in wheelchairs.
Our bodies are only the clothing our souls put on to participate in life. They are not who we are any more than a good dresser is a good man. Some people learn this as they age. Some never learn it. Katie knows it now. Her legs don't work. One of her hands works a bit. Her eyes are beautiful, but see little.
''Don't make this a pity piece," she warned me. ''I've been in newspapers before and it always comes out to be a pity piece. It's always about the wheelchair."
Katie talks like a writer. About her father who died when she was 13. ''I am the female him and he was the male me. Losing him was the hardest thing I have ever been through."
About growing up in Hull. ''It had its challenges. But having a disability has made me so much more observant of human behavior."
About her family: ''You get raised by my mother and my grandmother and you know how lucky you are. Without the two of them there would be no me. I wouldn't change me because they wouldn't change me. I'm normal to them."
About her experiences at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, where she has been a student for two years: ''I came into this place kicking and screaming. I didn't want to leave home. But then I forgot how to remember I was locked in a chair. And I learned that there is more to life than I knew."
And about the chair that she lives in.
''There are some days when I wake up in the morning and look at myself and say this sucks. And it does suck because I can't bring myself to the bathroom and I can't dress myself.
''But then I'm up and I'm with my friends and they have legs and I have eyes and we make each other up. To coin a phrase and the Perkins motto, I look at the people all around me and I see possibility."
I look at Katie Condo and I see more than possibility. I see inevitability. Remember her name. She wants to be someone who writes something really good. And she will.
Canton resident Beverly Beckham can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
End of article.
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