The Dexterous Sam SullivanThursday, March 16, 2006
Dexterity: 1527, from M.Fr. dexterite, from L. dexteritatem (nom. dexteritas), from dexter "skillful," also "right (hand)," from PIE base *dek-, cf. Gk. dexios "on the right hand," also "fortunate, clever;" Goth. taihswa; Skt. daksinah "on the right hand, southern, skillful;" Lith. desinas; O.Ir. dess "on the right hand, southern." Klein says the PIE base meant "to take, receive," also "acceptable, becoming, good." The Gk. and L. forms are with the comp. suffix -ter, thus meaning etymologically "the better direction." M.E. dester meant "right hand," and in heraldry dexter means "on the right side."
My camera and I spent two days following Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan( above with Lynn Zanatta)at home and at work. When I asked him to pose for me, invariably, my idea involved manual dexterity that I have taken for granted for too long. I soon realized that there are two important definitions of dexterity. The one that Sam Sullivan has in spades is the mental kind. But he is more manually dexterous than people suspect. He wraps his arms behind his wheelchair and pulls. This action causes spasms which give him temporary, but limited, use of his hands and wrists. I watched, with amazement, how he buttoned his shirt with a special device designed for his limited hand movement.
For two days I watched Sam Sullivan listen to people. After two days, mentally taking his place, I wanted to be alone and not listen to anybody. It was a relief to go home and do that. Even if Sam Sullivan can find some silence he can never leave that wheel chair behind. It is far more implacable than my own shadow.