August 11, 2012 § 11 Comments
Her disabled body was the first thing you would notice when you met Cindy, and it was impossible to overlook the crutches, and the power chair, or the difficulty she had lifting her head to look you in the eye–but you would quickly forget her frailty in the presence of her mighty personality. And Cindy encouraged the rest of us to forget.
Cindy painted her disease as a minor inconvenience. When filling out a form that asked about special needs she always checked NONE. “I can do anything anyone else can do, just more slowly.” She refused to give chronic illness oxygen by talking about it or complaining.
The only regret I ever heard her express was sadness that no man had ever loved her. If only one had looked past her disability and seen her.
Cindy’s death stalked her from childhood. She fought it and lost, but even this close to her death I can’t think about her without smiling. Cindy was so much more than a body visibly self-destructing.
She had an agile and active mind. Surgeries to repair hips and spine started early and her biggest fear was that in fixing her body her one sharp tool would be compromised. As she climbed up out of the anesthesia she always had her father quiz her on math. He tended to go easy on her. “Four times five. ” Cindy would roll her eyes (her eye rolling mechanism worked just fine).”Da-ad…at least do fractions!”
In her twenties she asked her doctor about his other patients of about that age with the same condition, how were they doing? (Cindy was competitive). The doctor answered reluctantly; there were no other patients who had lived into their twenties with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She was the sole survivor.
I realize I am dwelling on the very thing she rarely talked about, but one last story about Cindy’s illness. She took a trip to Lourdes with a priest friend. I don’t think she was expecting a miracle; Cindy was practical, but she wasn’t expecting a reverse miracle, which is what she got. While in that place of spontaneous recovery Cindy broke a hip. She joked that she was the only one to visit Lourdes and make a withdrawal from the pile of cast-off crutches.
What was Cindy besides a bad-luck body? Cindy was perhaps the sunniest person I have ever known, and the mind that demanded fractions was the mind of a natural teacher. She earned a PhD in education and used it to launch a thousand classroom teachers. Unlike many academics Cindy stressed real-world experience and had her students in classrooms as early as possible. Although teaching an elementary school class of her own would have been impossible she was adopted by the classes she visited weekly. I went on a visit with her and watched as twenty-four kids mobbed her.
Cindy made my life a better place too. She sought me out early in my career as a children’s book author. She arranged my first school visit. No matter where she went she suggested my books for state lists and created speaker spots for me at conferences.
Cindy died last Saturday, two days shy of her 54th birthday. The named cause was pneumonia but it was the arthritis wearing her down day after day, knotting her fingers, breaking her bones, that ultimately killed her. The news came to me from one of her students–in the last few years she had been teaching in Ohio and I saw her several times on Skype when I spoke to her classes. She was always surrounded by the eager faces of education students, the children she never had.
The countless teachers she launched are Dr. Cynthia Bowman’s legacy–that and the memories we keep of her. Our mutual friend, Joan Kaywell, says she consoles herself by imagining Cindy, now free of her cumbersome body and dancing, a drink in each hand.
Perhaps sometimes Lourdes takes a while to work.