Conjoined twins set an example
Lori Schappell, left, of Reading is connected at the head to her twin, George. The two learned how to compromise in order to survive. ARCHIVES/DONALD R. SERFASS
One benefit of working at a daily newspaper is the opportunity to meet interesting people.
It's a special reward that goes with the job.
It's a benefit I value in huge proportions. That's because I enjoy learning from folks in all walks of life. Everybody is interesting in one way or another.
Nearly 10 years ago I was invited to spend a day in center city Reading to meet Lori Schappell and her twin sister Reba. They were 44 at the time, the world's oldest living female conjoined twins.
They invited me to their apartment in a downtown high-rise and I had the privilege to get to know them and to be part of one day in their busy lives.
The two are joined at the head, facing opposite directions. On top of that, Reba was born with spina bifida and is unable to walk.
She sits in a wheeled stool and Lori pushes her around.
I've since met up with Lori online and learned about a few things that have changed.
One year after I met them, Reba took the name George, saying she identifies as male. It wasn't the first name change for her. The twins were born Lori and Dori but disliked the rhyming monikers. They wanted to more clearly express their individuality. That's when Dori took the name Reba. And so now Reba is George and wants to be referred to as "he" and "him."
In any case, my time spent with these two siblings of great faith was eye-opening.
They go about their daily lives navigating a world where nothing is made for them.
Nothing is designed for their circumstances.
Let's face it, nothing in our environment acknowledges a situation in which two people are anatomically connected.
No chairs are made that way. No kitchens are designed as such. And few bathrooms are accommodating enough to allow for conjoined twins.
Still, Lori and George make the best of it.
"We don't struggle," insists Lori.
After spending time with them, I came to agree.
They don't struggle. But maybe the rest of us do.
We struggle to understand lives beyond our imagination. We struggle to comprehend what it must be like to go to the shopping mall and endure endless stares.
"Sometimes when we enter a restaurant, people see us and they get up and leave," Lori told me.
Finally, some people struggle to come to terms with the fact that Lori had a steady boyfriend. In fact, she became engaged. However, her fiance was killed in a car crash, the victim of a drunken driver.
Still, Lori enjoyed the special companionship of a soul mate for a time. Good for her.
Lori and George continue to inspire.
They set an example in how they meet each other halfway in order to lead fulfilling lives. With them, everything depends on compromise, including the slightest move they make.
It's hard to believe, but there was a time decades ago when conjoined twins were denied marriage licenses based on morality issues.
Today the American Civil Liberties Union would have something to say about it, for sure.
And that's good because the common moral code shouldn't deny somebody their basic human rights. There's nothing moral about that.
Lori and George deserve all of life's blessings, including the opportunity to have a partner.
They live in world that isn't made for them on a physical level.
But love goes beyond the physical. Love is made for everyone. It's universal.
Lori and George learned how to live and they know how to love. And by doing so, they set an example.