Monday, June 11, 2012
Life Gets Better--Really
“Don’t worry. These are the worst years of your life,” Writer, traveler and social worker Wendy Lustbaker said to a van full of 19 and 20 year-olds touring New Zealand.
“Things get better in every way except physically as we get older because we figure out who we are,” she continued to those of us, most with white hair, attending her Keynote at the Insight conference for people with low vision and blindness this weekend.
“As we get older, we actually get braver. When you come to some understanding of who you are, you get braver.”
People in the audience, most aging with vision disabilities, shared how their lives are getting better:
“I’m more courageous,” said one woman. “I’m hiking the Grand Canyon for my birthday.”
“Through macular degeneration [an eye condition that can lead to blindness], “said the woman beside me, “I’ve developed a sense of humor. I once mistook the pattern on a plate for salad, and I tried to eat it.” Her husband added, “She even put salad dressing on it,” and my partner Ann joined in on the fun, “The salad dressing’s the best part.”
“I don’t care about mean girls anymore,” said another woman with white hair, “and I can be smart even though I’m a girl.” Lots of white hairs around the room nodded.
Professor Lustbaker added something she heard from another older woman who was funny, and insisted on paying her bills with her credit cards, “Well, I might as well spend while I’m dying,” she said. “I won’t get the bill.”
Like these older people, my life has gotten better in every way except physically since I’ve gotten older and since I’ve survived brain tumors.
I wrote piece for an Asheville writing contest called “The Benefits of Brain Tumors,” a piece which was a finalist but did not win. The final judge said that my sense of humor “made it palatable.”
“Palatable?!” I whined. That suggests that my writing verges on distasteful.
I think this idea that aging and living with disease are tragic has so much popular traction that saying that that there are benefits is a lot like farting in the room and laughing about it. It’s uncouth.
Just as so many hands flew up to share benefits of aging, I share real benefits of brain tumors. Some are practical, like Ann and I get reserved parking with a pretty blue and white wheelchair insignia everywhere we go. I pay a reduced fare on the city bus. (So does Ann because she’s over 65.) I hope I’ll get disability payments to help since I’ve had to leave my work. (Dealing with insurance companies is not a benefit.).
Some benefits are more profound. I connect more easily with people who know struggle than I used to: older people walking with canes and walkers and I make jokes; homeless people ask me a little of my story; people selling Seattle’s homeless newspapers, “Real Change,” say, “God bless you” as I stumble past. I am White, and African-Americans in this area of racial tension say prayers of healing for me. Teenagers hold doors for me. The list goes on.
Professor Lustbaker talked about making life as good as it can be through the habit of generosity, a habit emboldened by old age and disease. She quoted an older man, “God acts through you, not just for you,” and she closed, “That’s the divine in us, making use of the gifts we were given.”
And I add: the divine in us calls out the divine in others, so my life and the lives of those I see grows gentler, kinder, more connected.
The idea’s only distasteful if you suspect it’s untrue.
But it’s true: life does get better.
P.S. I know that marketing research says that I should post blog entries once a week, but I’ve decided to post whenever I have something that I think is worth sharing…at least every Wed but also whenever it seems right to me. I’ll write about why this Wed.