On Wednesday, June 4, 2008, I and many other people lost a good friend. Harriet McBryde Johnson of Charleston, SC died that morning. Why am I writing this letter now? July 8, 2008 would have been Harriet’s 51st birthday.
I am very happy that Harriet was born and lived for almost 51 years! Some people believe that infants with disabilities should not live. I strongly disagree with that belief! Harriet had Muscular Dystrophy and I was born with Cerebral Palsy. Harriet and I were glad that our parents gave us the opportunity to grow up, to graduate from college, have careers and to become middle-aged women.
Harriet and I met at a camp in Southern Pines, NC in the summer of 1970. She wrote her novel Accidents of Nature about a fictional camp. Some of the experiences in her book were similar to our experiences. Harriet and I began a long friendship even though we had different interests. Harriet liked to draw and to read political books even when she was 13 years old. At camp I liked to ride horses and swim. Harriet drew a picture of the pond at camp while I rode in the canoe. Even when Harriet was a teenager, she was not affected by peer pressure. She lived her life her way and she died her way (in her sleep).
I have often said that I wished that I had one fourth of Harriet’s intelligence. She was the most intelligent person that I knew and yet she was always interested in my opinions. She made a great impact on my life as well as influencing other people’s lives. Many people have described Harriet as a blunt but interesting writer, a civil rights lawyer, an advocate for people with disabilities, a rebel, a remarkable woman, etc. She was all that and much more. The word that I use to describe Harriet is FRIEND! We shared our hopes, dreams, disappointments and heartbreaks with each other. I had the privilege of knowing Harriet when she was happy and when she was sad.
Even though Harriet lived in South Carolina and I lived in North Carolina, she and I stayed in touch for almost 38 years. We visited each other a few times. Before we had computers, Harriet and I would type or write to each other. In the last one and a half decades we would send each other emails. In reading her letters, emails, published articles and books, I felt like I could see, hear, feel and smell whatever Harriet was describing. She had a talent with words even as a teenager and she used her writing talent to make the world better in her lifetime and for years to come through her writings.
In the past few years Harriet and I would call each other for our birthdays. This year I will remember Harriet on her birthday and I will always treasure my friendship with Harriet!