John Kennedy Rizzo

John Kennedy Rizzo

The King On The Hill

   John Kennedy Rizzo


          I first saw him while I was looking out the cabin door early one Sunday morning.  He was outside the gazebo, high on a hill facing the smoldering campfire from the night before.  All I could see from my position was his lanky profile; but he was a big man, he was tall, and looked to me even taller atop the small hill above the campgrounds; and although he was in a wheelchair, his long and powerful neck (which reminded me of a giraffe’s) seemed to be resting above everyone else’s--as there was a group of other special people gathered around the picnic tables inside the gazebo behind him.  They were all frolicking and socializing with each other, the other souls that is in front of him in the gazebo. 

          All the while the king sat at the grand entrance to the hut, he sat out in front of all the rest in a majestic calm and authority.  He was their guardian.  And although he was confined by many necessary gadgets and wrapped in medical life-support; this was all secondary to his own power and grace.  Even the medical equipment itself (attached loosely and clumsily to his body) appeared useless to him.  And it was!  This man possessed a power that existed in a different time, in a separate dimension and reality--one that could not possibly be understood from ours.  His being, in no practical sense, could ever truly be helped by anything in this world; even the best of our medical technology (though I wish for it to only get better), was no real benefit to the spirit and the eternal power of the king.

          I remember, as a result of my own head injury, being in a coma once, and shortly after coming out, communicating with people such as himself, and for a brief time transported to a similar dimension as his.  It was beautiful there, where we were, everything and everyone was beautiful there.  But considering these things and these wonderful places that I saw, from an earthly perspective; I imagine for the earthly orientated population and perspective and understanding, it must have been most difficult to imagine and truly comprehend, as I tried to explain these marvelous things to others who simply stared at me and shook their heads.  I am sure, at the time, the rest of the world did not see it in the way that I did, alongside my many other disability-friendly world living view and even today, chooses not to see.  Nor could they ever see it.  Stifled by too much technology and security.  They are bound up in their own material creation.  How could they understand that within these disabled and deformed bodies was life, a life possibly more evolved than they could ever imagine?  A life filled with love and compassion, a life far removed from their own life--the typical lives filled with worry and greed.  Could they even consider that life was better before cell phones and ATM cards?  How could they ever truly appreciate the beauty in a child’s face?  Or understand the wisdom in a flower--or even taking the time to sit by one?  “No time for that” they say, “gotta go!”  Hurry up and wait.  We all do it.

          But the king understands; and in all his pain and deformity lies a special kingdom that we all must come to know, sooner or later.  An esoteric reality filled with eternal substance and love; where colors richer and brighter than all the sun abide.  This is the real world; the world filled with realities that we cannot see, the things that we want to believe in, but cannot always know, but want to know--things such as faith and love, hope and joy, laughter and God.  Where the king was, lies a dimension without time, without anything you or I would understand.  It was an open place of space and possibilities, and it was bigger than anything we could comprehend.  He was traveling in the past as well as in the future; and they were all at once both a part of his present reality.

          The spirit of the entire camp knew this world very well.  It was a reality filled with love and acceptance--far above the simple pleasures of earth and body.  They were like angels there all floating freely.  I could see this as they frolicked among each other, not aware of our presence.  Though oftentimes we were right beside them; they were on a different plane of reality, in a different world--a world beyond three dimensions, a world filled with colors and feelings and pleasures we could only imagine.  There were things going on there at the camp that the average person did not, nor could not understand.  It was the way of a world much greater than ours; and it was a world that we can never know from here.  It was a place of tranquility and open understanding that cannot be compared to anything on this earth.  It was a dimension of time in which there was no time as we know it; in which there was also no time or particular place or thing to worry about.  Although it seemed there were many reasons for sorrow and common pain; among all their silent and noteworthy happiness, there was no time to consider them.       

The king and his people were like angels there on the campground, seemingly freely floating everywhere as they simply conversed and interacted with one another under the gazebo.  They were free, free from all the gadgets and time saving devices that are supposed to simplify our world; but often get us caught up in an economic flurry of difficult and frustrating problems where we never have time for the more important, more beautiful things in life, such as family and friends and all the earthly wonders of creation, such as flowers and trees, birds and sky.  Why do we, with all of our knowledge and advanced technology, hurry past all these things?  Fact is, mankind doesn’t look up to the sky (the heavens) not nearly as much as they used to.  Is it because we are simply lazy and figure--that’s another man’s job anyway?  Do we believe that a faster plane or faster car will truly increase the quality of our lives?  Is waiting an extra minute or two for a disabled person to get on the bus really a problem?

          I have witnessed many citizens become aggravated and suddenly distraught at the fact that they had to slow down a bit and wait for a wheel-chair-bound person to board a city bus.  I have even heard some swear and have witnessed some angrily move on to catch another bus (having to wait, perhaps, even longer) than the original one they intended to board.  There is something in our nature that is restless and unsatisfied; this is the primary reason why I choose to learn the art of living from these people--forced to slow down and really smell the roses.  To live life for the sake of living; in whatever form that may be.  To appreciate all of creation as a sacred gift and blessing.

          But when I saw him later on that evening (still on the hill by the campfire) only now from another direction, coming up from my car facing him head-on, it was a whole different sight.  He sat majestic, again, still in front of the gazebo all filled with other souls; but from this angle, unlike from the angle of the cabin, where I later sat, he seemed to be sitting in a position where he appeared much more erect, seated more profoundly upon the hill.  He truly looked like a king there; and he was: the bold protector of the camp, and of the world.  He was their leader; he was our leader.  He was certainly my leader.  His simple being has been more than just a body; it has been a lesson in life itself--of love and of the many things in life I have always wanted to know, but could not find anywhere nor could find the right words to express: by his example he has been a blessing for all the people he has come in contact with, and even those he has not.  He reminded me of Christ Jesus, still teaching us after all these many years.  No matter how distant in time or space--the message is all still very clear: to love and be loved.

          The strength I see in the king is well beyond any power I have observed on earth.  I cannot imagine possessing this strength, but I wish to understand it.  I believe it is the power that Jesus was talking about many times when He said, “The weak shall inherit the earth” along with many similar saying in the beatitudes, such as “My Kingdom is made manifest in weakness.” 

          As I sat in awe and serious wonder at all the men and the few women outside the gazebo surrounding the now smoldering campfire, I was taken back by the sudden and strange sounds many of them made.  Some sounds were like the bellow of a cow--a deep gutteral grunting.  Others chirped and gurgled like pigeons.  At first I didn’t say anything, none of us did, but after a while the grunts became amusing, and we laughed; and trying to figure out what they might be doing or thinking, or trying to say to each other, we poked fun at the sounds--alluding to the fact that they sounded like mating calls.  Our friend Ed was especially amused and did a take on it: looking down at my beautiful Laura in her power chair, Ed said (parroting the men, deep and loudly): “Ummggrruumm, I love that woman with the dark hair in the blue chair.” (Looking over and down at Laura), Ummggrruumm--I think I’ll eat you; I think I love you.”

          There were several of them off and down to the right side of the king sitting in formation all facing the same direction.  They reminded me of air force planes all lined up on a runway, or in the sky, heading somewhere definite.  And like the wonderful beings they are, moving in a clearly defined formation and part of a mission far greater than anything I have ever known.  They were going places, places I could only imagine, places I wanted to know.  And they had no worry or wonder about their mission; their destination was very clear.  They were headed in the opposite direction of the world--called by a very different power--they moved to the command of a greater force. 

          The king knows--that in all his suffering--lies a wisdom and insight that goes way beyond any of our human abled-bodied understanding.  The king is way beyond the frivolous concerns of daily living; he is not consumed with worry and such doubt as we are.  In many ways the king is powerful and self-directed.  By no choice of his own he is leading a life that no doubt is called to be his own.  He can neither be influenced by others nor affected by others; he chooses to be king and master of his own life, and this is what he does best.  The king and the others--they were in their own world: a world filled with peace and love and compassion, and understanding; though at the same time--they were very much a big part of our own world which was comprised of all the same possibilities.

          Sitting outside the cabin on the picnic bench facing the gazebo and fire from the night before, I sat and watched while my friend Ed (very serious and focused); he dutifully walked around the site organizing things for the night ahead, making all the necessary preparations for dinner, organizing his and his wife’s clothes and equipment--getting everything in order.

          After talking some deep theology and history of Poland with Ed (as Ed was from Poland) the history in reference to Hitler and the Jews, I reached into my bag and pulled out a video of Padre Pio, a great mystic who suffered with the stigmata for many years.  My face became suddenly stern and serious when I reached for this video; and I tried to change the mood to a more serious one.  I was getting even more solemn as I pushed the video towards Ed, across the picnic table.  With the video now before Ed on the picnic table, I expected a serious response and discussion to ensue.  But just like Ed, he looked at the video cover, saw that it was a priest, and Pope John Paul on the cover, and pushed it back away saying (while trying to break from the depressing mood I was setting): “To crazy for me.“  Ed said this in reference to the more exciting comedy he loves, such as The Three Stooges.  If it was a form of entertainment that he had to think about--forget it!  Ed needs his senseless comedy or even porno, something he says, “where he doesn’t have to think,” where he doesn’t have to figure anything out, not think about anything--just watch!  The gravity in reference to the world’s religious institutions and the depressing state of the infidels of the world was the last thing Ed needed.  This wasn’t Ed’s type of movie anyway--too much thought and speculation.  I can understand.  Ed lives the life of a Saint, all day and night long with his wife Lisa, who suffers from a debilitating illness which requires Ed’s full-time care and attention.  Ed needs levity and humor more than most.

          Well, I ended my pursuit of this gloomy conversation as quickly as I began it--looked off at the others in the gazebo, and went off into my own little world of dreams and imagination.  I sat and wondered how it could all be this way--why God would allow it to all be this way; and was mankind able and willing to fix it?  I sat and further postulated on all the theological implications of all this.  What was God’s role in this?  Was He punishing us?  Was He chastising and strengthening us?  Or was there simply no God behind this at all?  While I sat all pensive and gloomy imagining these things, my friend Ed--caught up with the reality of what was actually going on all around us--went about with the business of getting things done.

          However, many are not blessed like my friend Ed, with the strength and the will to dedicate such time and effort to these people and actually interact; indeed, marry and dedicate his life to this very often painful aspect of caring for and loving the very severely disabled.  The thankless and unrecognized work and effort that goes into keeping these people alive, indeed, in keeping ourselves alive.  It takes a very special person called to do this work, to meet these exceptional challenges, and to find it rewarding and meaningful.

At the campsite there was a charity concert and other arts and other craft events given by the very rich for the disabled at the camp.  They came wearing all their best, looking as good as they possibly could.  It was almost as if it was some kind of fashion show or competition for the rich to all show off all their very best to each other and how much they could outdo each other by their donations to the camp and the foundation.

“Oh Joanie, you look so fine in all those big diamonds.  By the way, how is Mel?  You know he’s one big man in our community, providing more homes and contracts for future development than any other man we have ever had with our company.  I hope to see you more often at these events where we can discuss future plans about getting rid of some of those people who just cannot hold their own with the type of business we do.”

Elaine’s comment on the rich coming to look at the little “crips” for a day said it all.  Our friend Elaine is a musician and a disabled advocate who is a big part of many disabled people’s lives.  Her music is a song of hope, as well as her presence.  Like me, Elaine is critical of the general population and their ignorance in reference to the disabled population, who, out of fear, are often placed so far out of sight from the general population, that they don’t even see them, and thus are even more ignorant and dumfounded by their presence when the opportunity arises for them to meet.  Thus maintaining the status quo, the severely disabled that are cut off from society in the first place in many ways, both physically and socially: either by inhibiting illness or offensive laws inhibiting their public access and presence alongside the general public.  Indeed with the uncivilized fear, ignorance and improper treatment of the poor and disabled, they are unfortunately pushed even farther out of the way of the general population, allowing for drastic social and institutionalized repression and abuse.

          However, Elaine can be found at these out of the way places, where the “crips” (as the elite call them) often go to give these charities out of guilt and nothing more.  Elaine tells me, at a concert she gave in Connecticut, several women who were there for a conspicuous appearance, came to Elaine’s side with a comment in reference to “Us” rich coming to look at the little “crips” for a day.  This is what Elaine imagined in her mind as a result of these people’s actions coming to see the “crips” as a social duty, not out of love or compassion or anything like that.  It was simply their social obligation fulfilled; their fawning deference to servility for a day, done and over with. 

The insincerity was as loud as any words, and Elaine wrote a song about the event: “A crip can be hip.”  It is an upbeat song, forcefully, sung with conviction, like all Elaine’s music and messages.  It is largely about the right of the crippled in society, in light of the general population, and how as a cripple, we should have the same rights in society as the general population; specifically in reference to physical “access” to all the same public buildings, housing, stores, shopping centers, and public institutes of all kinds, such as libraries, hospitals, museums and parks, not to mention safe and all-inclusive public transportation.  O how the world could be so much better if we all acted on the words: equality for all.  However, for now we have many people who, like the King on the hill, you will find in many places in society proclaiming the same message of equality for all, as loud and clear as anyone, O so very silently from a wheelchair or a hospital bed, his words could not possibly be more loud and clear: equality and justice for all!  All we have to do is follow his lead.  The King on the hill who sits so ever silent, our guardian with the most powerful message for us all—to love!