Friday, August 28, 2009

These are the gifts

“You work hard, Amy. I watch you,” Barbara says, when she delivers my fruit salad to the table. As she walks back behind the counter, I notice the slight limp, the way her well-padded body lists slightly to the right, compensating for some pain in the back, perhaps, some bunion, some pebble in the shoe.

I do work hard. So does she. I write and I write, looking for the loose thread, the truth the truth the truth, like a person running through the rooms of a house in a fury, hurling aside the furniture.

Barbara works behind the counter, earning the grocery money--and the gifts she lavishes on the family she adores--since her husband went on disability..

“Everyone’s disabled,” my father says. “Some of us wear it on the outside; everyone else spends their whole life trying to pretend they’re normal.”

We overreact, we beat our children, we lie to the boss. We binge and purge. We watch porn, we talk to too much, we don’t know how to love. We’re addicted to drink, pill, caffeine, approval and haunted by our shortcomings: the stutter, the cleft palate, the fat ankles.

We talk about people behind their backs, living in terror that our secret shames will bleed though, bleed out and everyone will find out that underneath the masks and mirrors, we are…. What?

What are we afraid they’ll see? That we’re imperfect; that we’re wicked, weak, out of control? Do we fear they’ll find us uninspiring, unsophisticated, naïve, ill-informed or ignorant? Or are we all really terrified to be average—just a regular Joe, a living, breathing human who is sometimes happy, sometimes sad; sometimes up and sometimes, trying to get up, after falling down.

Oh, the peeled back self, the exposed and vulnerable truth of who we really are. Oh, how we run from it… when we should be running toward it with everything we’ve got. That’s where the juice is, the joy, the LIFE! And yet, how quickly even this becomes a homily, more new age blah, blah, blah to be Twittered ‘round the world.

The truth is…
The truth is…
The truth is…
I have no idea what the truth is.

It’s all just smoke and mirrors. We're all just pretending to go along. The Emperor has no clothes! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! The President is just another human, doing the best he can.

And you know what I mean.

How’s your ADD, your Anorexia, your Autism, your Food allergy? How's your Asperger’s, your PTSD, your PPD, your POS?

The truth is, every day we are born and die again. Just like everyone else.

I met Joe, a gregarious 70-something, at the cafe where I write and where, every morning, he meets two or three friends for coffee, a long talk about God and politics and some flirting with the pretty girls.
The other day, Joe sat himself down at my table and launched right into a conversation about dying.
“My brothers and one sister are already gone,” he told me. “Just me and one sister are left—and she’s got Alzheimer’s. I keep wondering, why am I still here? What’s so special about me? One day, I’m not going to wake up.”

Just yesterday, my father and I had been talking about the same things: Dying, being special. We’d decided that dying might be like being born backwards. “I imagine it would be a kind of dissolving,” I tell Joe. “Losing our singularity, our individuality and merging with God.”
Joe smiled. “I knew you were a deep thinker.” Then, he sighed. “I’m not scared of death,” he said. “It’s dying I’m afraid of. The whole dying thing—it’s too hard, too long.”
“Go in your sleep,” I suggested.
“I’m trying,” he laughed.

Dad says, “Everyone’s got a little post traumatic stress disorder. Life is hard.” And it should be, it’s meant to be. Not hard in an Oh-poor-sensitive-overwhelmed-me way. Hard in the way that a knife is at its best after meeting a sharpening stone. Hard in a good way.

Everyone is haunted by shadows, everyone has shit in their childhood that they are constantly working through, working on, dealing with. Each of us must manage our dark side, must deal with things we would rather stuff under the bed.

My grandmother was born with a huge blueberry stain on the left side of her face. Her father, a prominent physician tried to burn it off with acid.

“He was a 33rd degree Mason, you know,” Mom says. We’re sitting in the parking lot at Macy’s. Since we started talking, the sun has dropped behind the Mobil station across the road, rush hour traffic has ebbed away. “Back then, many people still believed that disfiguring marks like these were the sign of the devil, wages of sin.”

“How could he have done that?” I ask into the darkened car. Mom shifts in the passenger seat. “Oh, what fucked up, twisted things people do to each other,” I sigh, dropping my forehead to the steering wheel.
Mom pats my hand. She’ll be 80 this year., 60 years older than the day she fled Springfield, Illinois, and escaped the tangle of pathology that was her family. It’s only recently that she seems to have stopped running.

My father was born with cerebral palsy. He was also born with a good mind, a ravenous appetite for sports, for physical activity. He had a beautiful face and well-proportioned body. Yet his CP was the defining fact of his life. We might say, how sad, he had so much potential. But maybe the CP was the greatest potential of all. Who can say?

Last week, my son moved into his first apartment. Tomorrow my daughter, my youngest, heads to college. It hurts. I'll get through it. I will regret what I did not remember to do. I will remember, with joy, and an overflowing heart, what joys we managed to squeeze in. She will come home, we will share new ideas, new challenges, new sufferings and discoveries.

Fate and Destiny walk hand in hand. We have what we have—everyone must struggle out of some sort of poverty, some sort of disability, some disfigurement. Every moment of every day, a person with a disability must push against it, master it, against the context of a world designed for the able bodied. He is seen by others this way, placed into context by others this way. Treated this way, called “special”.

We are all so very special. We are all defined by our disabilities, by what we lack as much as by what we have. These are the rocks against which each human being must hone the blade of his life.

These are the gifts.


ShellyKramer said...


To say that this is beautiful is a massive understatement. What a talented writer you are. What a terrific subject. What a way to make people think. Absolutely, hauntingly, amazingly amazing.


booksbelow said...

These are the things that run through my mind, sometimes, but you have expressed them so beautifully. We are all human and we all live with our faults. Thanks for such a thoughtful piece.
Roger Hjulstrom

Elizabeth Alraune said...

@ShellyKramer sent me your way today, and I am glad she did. What you wrote is a beautiful perspective on the "truth" that we live. As Shelly knows, perspective is one of my favorite topics. :-) Thanks for sharing yours. @JoLoPe

Naomi Mimi said...

what beautiful thoughts. we are all hampered in some way. we all have our burdens to bear. we become wholly who we are through our faults and making them our strengths.

thank you for being transparent and letting us see your thoughts. they are beautiful.

tara said...

Pure bitter sweet. And so it goes...
Excellent post, heart-tuggingly well done.
Tara Wesely

moritheil said...

We're in it together.

Most of us refuse to recognize or admit it, though.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Thanks so much. Today, THIS is a gift for me!