It was almost a year ago that we first met Cayetano. The impact of his smile, his determination, and his strength has not left us since that time.
This fall we were able to visit Cayetano again. Cayetano recognized Josh as soon as Josh approached him.. This time Josh had returned with his two daughters and a meal, to meet and spend time with this man who had become a symbol of strength and courage in our home.
Just as with our first meeting, Cayetano continues to teach lessons in the way he chooses to live his life.
Cayetano was only a six-year old boy when he lost his ability to walk. It’s not completely clear, but there is a good chance the loss of his legs was due to a condition that might have been prevented if he had access to the appropriate healthcare as a child. Instead of running, playing and exploring as a six-year old boy should do, Cayetano lost his ability to fully use his own body. The use of his legs completely disintegrated.
This did not stop Cayetano though. He persisted to live life in the best way that he could despite having no use of his legs.
Today, Cayetano has no means of employment and so in this one area he depends on the generosity of others and spends his time asking for money, six days a week, ten hours a day. It is likely only because of his persistence that we had the opportunity to meet him.
Seeing Cayetano, you yearn to help him, to make his life easier. However, it is the struggle that he has had to endure which has also made him strong and allows him to teach the lessons he does today.
Cayetano lives 20 minutes away from Central Park. He makes this commute walking with his hands, using wooden blocks to protect his fingers. When he reaches his home he has to climb, up twenty-nine stairs. He lives independently with no assistance. That means, on his own, he completes all the activities, you and I do, to live on a day to day basis, but he only has the use of his arms to assist and maneuver in these activities–shopping for and preparing food, cleaning his home, taking a bath and more.
He regularly washes his laundry by hand. Upon hearing this, our instinct was to feel compassion for him and sorrow for how hard simple tasks are for him, sadness that he had to complete so much work on his own. However, upon further reflection, what a great gift he has given to himself to not have to rely on others for his daily needs.
Despite his kindness and smile, Cayetano’s life has not been an easy one. He battles depression. Instead of giving into despair, he has found ways to use the strengths he has. He regularly memorizes different things to keep his brain active and his mind occupied. He has memorized all 50 of the United States and gave us a demonstration of his admirable knowledge.
Instead of becoming dependent on others to care for him, he has become a teacher. He has taught us, no matter how difficult your life is, you can be happy. No matter what weaknesses you have, you can focus on and improve your strengths. No matter how enormous the obstacles that lie in your path are, you can overcome them.
Perhaps the greatest lesson Cayetano teaches us is that YOU are the master of your life and YOU decide what your life will be, no matter how easy or hard the circumstances of your life are.
Written by Shalyce Cluff