I use my mind’s eye more than ever as I live my life with very little sight. It occurred to me recently that perhaps my avid reading since childhood was preparing me for my vision loss. When I read now, with the help of my Merlin electronic magnifier, I see the characters, locations and environments as clearly as I ever did. Reading has been my friend, my hobby, my escape and my passion since I was a little girl, and now I recognize it for the training ground it was. It is as if I am reading my life through my memory, descriptions from the people with me, instinct and imagination. It may not be the greatest story ever told, but I am hoping for a happy ending.
I have a 5” scar on my ankle, a rod and screws lie underneath. I have been incredibly lucky in that aside from somewhat limited flexibility, I suffer no ill effects from the three surgeries that made that scar almost 20 years ago. Weather doesn’t bother it and unless you push hard on the area, I have no pain.
Life’s scars are as unpredictable. Some heal right away, some are fine “post-op” but may cause you complications in the future, some have their own triggers: dates, smells, sounds, places, pictures. And there are those that seem to have never happened at all.
Today is the 7th anniversary of my mom’s death. Yesterday, the scar was painful; today I know it’s there but it does not hurt. Of course, it’s early in the day and I can recall every moment of June 26, 2012 so I can’t be sure that as we approach the moment the scar was created, there won’t be pain.
Everyone heals differently and the severity of the wound is yet another determining factor in that process. My mom and I were attached at the hip, and losing her was not like losing the proverbial limb, but a part of my heart and my soul. Some may not understand why 7 years later I still grieve, why this scar is either numb or painful after 2,556 days. But I know why and I will continue to work hard to find a place in between, where the memories bring me comfort and joy, and honor her and the relationship we shared. And if at 17 years or 27 or 37 it is the same as it is today, I will still know why.
The summer after my ankle injury, when we would go to the beach as we did quite often, I would jokingly tell her that I just knew everyone was staring at my hideous, heinous ankle scar. She would roll her eyes at me, then as seriously as she could, assure me that, yes, everyone was.
A happy memory. No pain.
The healing continues.
I miss you, Mom.
My husband and I went out to breakfast on Father’s Day and the restaurant was crowded as you would expect. We were seated quickly but it took awhile for our server to arrive. She instantly and profusely apologized and I assured her we understood and not to worry about us. We briefly chatted about the chaos of her morning, then placed our order. When we had our fill of coffee, she brought us our check. She thanked us sincerely and sweetly for being so nice.
As we drove home, I thought about her. I said to my husband, “She was nice. We were nice. That’s how life works.” Or is supposed to. It’s sad that kindness is a surprise. The three of us found it that morning at a local breakfast spot but being nice doesn’t reside in a place, It’s in all of us.
Have you given someone a nice surprise today?
It is 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning in a residential neighborhood. The sole figure in town walks purposefully up the steep hill, the final stretch of her 3-mile walk. She is sweating profusely despite the early hour, her seemingly solid plan of getting her workout done before the heat and humidity set in, now seems laughable. She, however, is not laughing. She is grimacing. She despises working out but her stubbornness serves her well in this aspect of her life, and she does it anyway. Only a handful of cars have passed since she started this trek, people are sleeping in, the temperatures preventing activities as if it were a snow day. No dogs bark as they usually do when she dares to set foot on their street, even the birds are quiet. Each step is torturous and the whirring of central air conditioning and window units taunts her. She can imagine the coolness were she to walk in the front door of any of the homes she passes. It only makes her hotter. And madder.
Then, from one of the houses across the street, the ultimate blow.
She smells bacon.
The woman knows life can be cruel. In a two-year period, her beloved healthy mother died quickly after cancer busted the myth that she was well. Her husband was hit with a cardiac crisis that could have easily killed him. Her father-in-law died tragically during an outpatient procedure. She has woken up blind. But her favorite breakfast meat wafting through the air as she prays for the pain to stop, the nightmare to be over, may be the thing that finally breaks her.
At the coffeehouse I frequent, a woman asked me to watch her MacBook while she went to the restroom. She had set her things up at a table across the room from where I sat and I could barely see her things. I would, however, be able to make out someone approaching her “desk” so I wasn’t promising something I couldn’t keep. I said, “Sure”, and let the irony of the moment wash over me.
Although my vision is profoundly impaired, she did not know it and she saw something in me she trusted. I know my lack of sight should not define me but, really, how can it not? If you meet me for the first time and we spend more than a few minutes talking, it will come up. It’s one of the first things I will share with you about myself. I’m repeatedly told you can’t tell by looking at me and that I maintain eye contact even though mine can’t see yours. But on the off-chance I seem to be staring at your nose, I want you to nose why. It was refreshing to be identified as nothing more than the good person I try to be . . . and nothing less. Certainly by a stranger, but even more so by myself.
As my husband helped three men and three women tear down old and build new outside aviaries at the rescue from where we adopted Piper, our parrot, I stayed out of the way. There were a lot of moving parts and an equal amount on the ground, I didn’t want to trip and fall, so I spent my time nearby interacting with some of the birds. We had never met the other volunteers before, but an easy camaraderie was formed instantly. They all worked together as if they had been doing it for years and joked and laughed despite the hot sun blazing down on them and the soupy, humid air. Four of us had travelled two hours to reach the rescue and all but one of us share our lives with feathered souls. The non-parront doesn’t particularly care for birds – he has cats – but visits the rescue frequently to help out.
With a chorus of whistling, squawking and cooing as the background music of this project, Habitat For Humanity came to mind. The habitat here wasn’t “for” but “because of” humanity. The enclosures being constructed that day by strangers aren’t for humans to live in, they are for parrots to get fresh air, sun and a change of scenery as they wait for their forever family to arrive to take them home. The individuals building the structures were there due to compassion, kindness and love. Because of their humanity, there is a habitat for birds.
“I hope that I live long enough
to be cold
in an air-conditioned restaurant.”
— Sister Rain (aka Sweaty Betty)
In the 20 years that we have been close friends we had never gone on a trip together, but a weekend getaway remedied that. It was a chance for us to talk uninterrupted by the needs of husbands, children, feathered and furry kids, work and household management responsibilities. The two decades that have passed since we met have seen the highs and lows of life: births, deaths and all that comes between. With two days alone, we were able to tell stories about the girls we once were before we became the women who were first introduced in 1998.
At dinner one of the nights we had steamed clams in their shells, served in a bowl of melted butter. I have had steamers before, but usually the butter comes separately for dipping the clams in. My friend was familiar with the bowl-o-clams and we had a good laugh at my confusion over the menu’s description of the dish.
Open yourself up to new forms of old favorites. I had no idea what I’d been missing all these years. And even though they were so delicious we went back the following day, I’m not referring to the clams.
When I walk near my home for exercise, I round the corner at a busy intersection. There are always cars stopped at the traffic light and the sidewalk is so close to the road that I could high-five a passenger if their window was down. I head for home after making the turn and by then the sweat and suffering show in equal parts all over my face. I have never enjoyed working out and I have no doubt that my feelings about it are evident in my every step.
I don’t use an identifier or mobility cane and am able to confidently walk this route after doing it so often. No one in those vehicles can tell that I am legally blind. Yesterday as I got to that part of my trek, I could smell cigarette smoke and hear radios blaring from the nearby waiting cars even though I had Bon Jovi blasting through my headphones. I wondered if they were thinking the same thing I used to as I sat in my air-conditioned car on an especially hot day, both, “Look at that fool” and “You’ve got to admire her determination”. I was also curious if I/they knew that determined fool is visually impaired would I/they be inspired to maybe do something difficult? If I was the one on the road and not on the sidewalk, I believe that I would.
I don’t write this with any audacity to declare myself an inspiration. I am living not only on a prayer, but my life. Most of us are facing some adversity and don’t acknowledge, let alone celebrate, our accomplishments. We recognize other’s achievements rather than our own. I am certain that the story of every person in their car at that intersection would touch me in some way if I heard it.
Whatever challenges you are overcoming, I encourage you to unfold your cane every so often, and share the walk you are on with the people you encounter in your life. Because when we do, we quickly realize that at some point, we all intersect.