Jason is one of my oldest friends. Over the years, we have known each other in several communities; church, 4-H, basketball games, and a summer camp we have been part of for over thirty years. Jason’s birthday is the day after Christmas. Many times, over the last few years, mainly his 40th, the birthday party overshadowed other holiday celebrations.
I tried to reach Jason by phone this morning. He sends me straight to voice mail. His outgoing message declared, “Hello. You have reached the voice mailbox of the very important and very incredible Jason; I am so incredible, so leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Bye.” Jason is one of the most incredible and important people I know.
My favorite memory that Jason and I share started at 4-H camp one summer in the early 1990s. I was a volunteer, and Jason attended as a camper. Volunteers traveled to camp ahead of the campers to train and get things set up. After camp, some volunteers needed to ride in the bus along with the campers for purposes related to supervision; with a significant lack of wisdom and foresight, I volunteered. I provided no supervisory benefit, as I promptly fell asleep.
The entire incident was long forgotten by the time of the 4-H fair some months later. Jason entered a picture in the photography competition, utterly unknown to me: a photo of me fast asleep on the camp bus. I remember the image being 36 inches wide and 48 inches tall, and the drool on my cheek glistened. Memories sometimes prove to be inaccurate.
Jason was the last person I told I would move away from Kansas and come to Target. It was a conversation I dreaded. When I go home to visit, Jason is the one person I prioritize sharing a beer with.
Jason has a disability. I do not know his diagnosis. Jason is my buddy, and that is all that has ever mattered. Recently, Jason has suffered from some health-related issues. He cannot live as independently as he once did. His mobility has suffered. This period of life has been challenging for Jason, but his spirits remain high. He keeps us posted on his progress in therapy, how far he can walk, and how long he can stand.
The words “disability is a natural part of the human experience…” are tattooed on my heart. Jason is not the only one who will experience poor health in the coming years. My health, my abilities, and my independence will likely decline. Most of us are going to need more and more support to remain independent in the future.
For those with disabilities, the aging process presents many challenges related to independence, care, and support. Agencies like Target are on the cusp of new challenges in the face of aging. I am confident that we are up to the task. Like all of yesterday’s opportunities, armed with communication, advocacy, and teamwork, we will move forward committed to human dignity in the face of new challenges.