A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Almost Miraculous Birthday

I had an excellent 51st birthday last week, and it was almost miraculous. To start with, my birthday fell on Friday the 13th, like it did on the day I was born. My lucky day! (Fortunately, I was not on the 13th floor of a hospital, like I was on that first auspicious day. I don't even think they have 13th floors in hospitals any more. They don't have white wings in hospitals any more either, but that's a subject for another blob entry.)

I opened my birthday cards, including one with the most excellent bling of burning candles from my college friend Sara. 

At a breakfast of my favorite granola that my friend Marilyn makes, I wore my new glasses. I had to buy new frames because a woman at Group Health worried that my old frames, held together with fingernail polish, might not make it much longer. My head is so small that the salesman convinced me to buy children's frames, and they fit so much better that I can see better through them. Through these new glasses, when I looked straight ahead, I had single vision. This was the first time that I have seen singly since neurosurgery eight years ago. What a relief! I even thought I might avoid an upcoming eye surgery. A miracle!

Ann and I set out for Log Boom Park, where we park before riding to the Red Hook Brewery for lunch. I tried triking in my new glasses, but the ride's too bumpy for me to see singly, so I went back to my more traditional biking classes.

This ride is one of my favorite rides, and pretty much the only time when I'll have a beer for lunch. (Maybe that's why it's a favorite ride.) Our friends Marion and Wolfgang joined us on the ride and were kind about following my instructions: either ride way ahead or behind. (Without depth perception, I can't tell when someone in front of me is slowing down, so I need a lot of space.) 

Wolfgang actually rode his bike down all the side trails, getting way ahead of us and then coming up behind us. He reminded me of a golden lab puppy with whom I once took a hike. The puppy ran back and forth, back and forth, smiling as puppies do, until he got pooped and huddled under a tree, whimpering, and his owners carried him in their backpack the rest of the way up. Fortunately, Wolfgang didn't stop and whimper as he would not fit in my bike bag. 

After a lovely ride on a beautiful day, I took a quick nap (quicker than I like). It was especially quick because my niece Gretchen called to say, "Happy birthday." That was a miracle, too, and I liked it so much that I'm reconsidering my policy of not acknowledging any of my nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays (too much pressure that I might forget one.)

Then, Ann and I went to our friends' John and Jerry's home for a paella dinner. We bought this dinner at the church auction last year (I think we've bought it for the past ten years), and friends had bought into it, too. John learned to cook paella when he and Jerry lived in Spain years ago. (I think that's where he learned to make a Spanish tortilla, too, an appetizer that I could live on. If you make it, too, please invite me over for dinner…or just appetizers.)

For dessert, Jerry turned the lights down, and brought out a lovely chocolate (perhaps that's redundant) cake that said, "Happy birthday, Mary!" in the middle of a ring of candles.

All night, I saw singly. When I thought I saw two scallops in my paella, there really were two scallops. And when anyone laughed, as each of us often did throughout the night, only one of them laughed. I can't tell you how amazing that is.

In fact, right now, five days later, I see only two hands typing on only one keyboard. To my left is one calculator on top of a scramble of papers—all single sheets. To my right is another scramble of single sheets. These piles bring to mind a plaque that Sister Jen once gave me: A clean desk is the sign of an empty mind.

Alas, the idea that surgery won't be necessary has faded. My vision's a lot better in these glasses, but items to my right still zoom across the single image, or sometimes settle on someone's face: quite distracting.

So maybe this wasn't a miracle. Or maybe the fact that I'm still here after surgeons cut into my brain and a radiologist burned into the same brain is a miracle. Heck, it's a miracle that any of us survive birth. Or our teenage years. There are so many daily miracles: for example, I cut my fingernails and they grow back.

Miraculous. Perhaps the miracle is just in our way of seeing and noticing. Especially that most of us (from time to time, me too, now) see singly. Just notice one precious, amazing thing: a red tulip's spring splendor, a tree's tall spine, cars zooming past one another at 55 mph, mostly not crashing into one another.

May I live this new year in my life amazed by its miracles. That would be an excellent birthday gift, even a miraculous one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Still Learning

Friday night, Ann and I went to a Disability Justice event at the University of Washington that our friend Tash had told us about. I love being around people with disabilities and our allies, so I loved this crowd of 50 folks.

There were introductory thoughts by people who could explain the difference between Disability Rights and Disability Justice. (I didn't even know there was a difference.) Then we broke into discussion groups, and Ann and I joined the group on Intersectionality (though Ann hadn't heard the word before. She said, "That was interesting. You all have your own way of talking, and I felt a little lost. I've never been in a place where people include their preferred pronouns in introductions.") That's how we always do it in the School of Social Work to respect people who don't identify with their apparent gender or people whose gender is (usually intentionally) unclear. Intersectionality, by the way, is a term referring to the intersections of oppressions. I am a woman (an oppressed gender), a lesbian (an oppressed identity), and a person with disabilities (another oppressed group.) Intersectionality refers to the ways in which those oppressions build on one another. 

I knew the progressive language of this university culture and felt comfortable. A young woman (cisgendered--which means that she identifies with the gender that she appears to be) led our group of maybe ten people who had chosen to focus on Intersectionality. (Our leader was a college senior who identifies as Native and Black, and she opened the larger meeting with a powerful song of invitation.)

Our leader invited us to sit on couches outside the larger room and opened the conversation with a question that I can't now remember. A couple of people spoke, one about something like people are people before their oppressive identities separate them, and the other about the difficulty of having invisible disabilities. I spoke up not because I really had anything to say at that point but because I was trying to help the conversation along. (I usually practice what I'm going to say in my head before speaking aloud, so I was a little uncomfortable with this. It's probably good to be uncomfortable about speaking when I don't have anything to say.)

I started by noting how the comments about the difficulty of invisible difficulties resonated with so much that I have heard from my research and interviews and the many people I've met with disabilities. Then I noted my agreement, also, with the comment about how our humanity unites us before our oppressions separate us. 

Then I made the mistake of using #blacklivesmatter and #disabledblacklivesmatter to say that all lives matter. This was a mistake because I am a white person, pasty actually, and I don't know what it's like to be Black in this society that has historically and to this day disrespected our Black citizens. #blacklivesmatter is important to say because in our society it doesn't seem obvious, even if it should be. At least that's how I understand it.

Folks talked a little about why #alllivesmatter just doesn't do it, and then it was time to go back in because we hadn't had much time. I wanted to defend myself as misunderstood, but given a little time to reflect, I'm glad I didn't. My mistake was in using an example laden with history and discrimination--a heaviness I have to understand comes whether or not I intend the offense. 

I just keep learning. Some things it seems I should have figured out by now, and it's not that I'm not trying, but I still have so much to learn, about my world and about myself.

I had once thought that I would become wise, and that with wisdom I wouldn't make such mistakes anymore. In those days, however, I thought of wisdom as a destination, a goal, a place I was going. Now I think of it as a state in a moment. Maybe some people,  people like Jesus and Ghandi, lived in that state in every moment, but I move in and out of it. 

Sometimes I wish I were better than that, but at other times I'm gentler on myself. Maybe meditation helps me forgive myself. I'll tell you now that I'm doing my best, and I'll ask your forgiveness when I fall short. 

When I'm good, I'll forgive you, too, if you need it, and we'll just be flawed humans together.