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Joy was ill and looking for help. Then an unexpected offer came

Joy Ladin's unsung hero responded to her need and her disability.
Joy Ladin
Joy Ladin's unsung hero responded to her need and her disability.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Joy Ladin is a poet and scholar, known for her work exploring Judaism and gender identity.

In 2007, she became a tenured professor of English at Yeshiva University, where she was the first openly transgender professor to teach at an Orthodox Jewish institution.

But for the past few years, an incurable, slowly disabling illness has forced her to step back from all that.

In the summer of 2021, she left her teaching position and began accepting disability benefits. And now, she must spend most of her day lying down.

"It's intensified to the point that I've made a list of things that I want to do while I'm still able to do them," Ladin said.

One of the first things on that list was to make an audio recording of her 2007 book, The Book of Anna. Finding someone to make it was almost too much effort for Ladin, but eventually she connected with a woman a few hours away – independent producer Debbie Blicher.

At first, Blicher invited Ladin to her home studio, in Sudbury, Mass. Then Ladin explained that she was ill.

"'And she said, 'OK, I will drive to you,'" Ladin recalled. "And I explained about being on disability, and she said, 'OK, I won't charge you for the transportation time.'"

Ladin told Blicher that she would need to create the recording while lying down in bed, which might make it difficult for Blicher to hold the microphone. But Blicher didn't blink.

"'That's OK,'" Ladin recalled Blicher saying. "'I will sit on the bed beside you and hold the microphone over you so that you don't have to sit up.'"

And that's what Blicher did.

She drove out to Ladin's home, in Northampton, Mass., and for a total of about six hours, Blicher sat on Ladin's bed, leaning over, holding the microphone so that they could make the recording.

Afterward, when they were talking together, Ladin learned that Blicher's father was in the process of dying.

"He was the inspiration for her to extend herself in this way," Ladin said. "She felt like that was the way that she was going to honor his life."

Ladin still thinks of Blicher's act of generosity, made even more special since Blicher herself was suffering.

"Her example of responding to my need and my disability, and my sense that this was important for me to get done — by extending herself in so many ways — that makes her one of my unsung heroes."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday and Thursday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]