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.
There’s full and then there’s
leaving the restaurant,
getting in the car,
reaching down to unbutton and unzip your jeans
so you can breathe,
only to realize
you are wearing pull-on, stretchy pants.
As I sat for several hours waiting to see a doctor, I thought about how a place can change your life. You go in as one person and you leave as another. A line of demarcation that once crossed, you will not ever be the same again. This is never more true than at a medical appointment.
As I tried to be a patient patient until called to meet with the world-renowned specialist, I began to understand that it’s not only the diagnosis that can make you different, but the time spent waiting. Once you learn what the professional in the white coat knows, you can process the information, put plans in motion and begin to adapt. It’s possible that you’ll depart with your tomorrows looking just as they did when you arrived. But the minutes in those hard, unforgiving chairs have an impact far beyond your aching back: A toll is paid regardless of your good news / bad news ratio. And when next you find yourself in the same position, every moment that has come before in this kind of limbo sits right there with you.
I left this particular appointment with promising possibilities. But all that passed between the elevator up and the elevator down left its mark. On my butt, yes, but even more so on my psyche.