Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In Your Face Donald!

I did it.  It took seventeen days, but I finally did it.  I watched the news.  I haven't been able to do that since the election.  Fifteen hours of Rachel Maddow, ten broadcasts of The PBS Newshour, and an assortment of NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press, and Charlie Rose shows piled up on my DVR before I decided that maybe I could listen to some part of it without recoiling into a paralysis of horror.  So I watched Rachel's interview with Elizabeth Warren and PBS's remembrances of Gwen Ifill.   Who would have thought watching the news could require courage?

I tried to do it a few nights after the election.  Maybe I can tolerate news with a comedy chaser, I thought, or a sort of news / comedy stew.  I turned on The Daily Show.  Sitting beside Trevor Noah was a female comedian.  She did her comedy bit, then referred to one of the last lines of Hillary Clinton's concession speech, the one where Clinton exhorted women and girls to never forget they were strong, beautiful, and capable of doing anything.  "The fact that we have to be reminded of that now. . ." said the woman on The Daily Show, bursting into tears.  The next segment included a Muslim staff member, who told his jokes, and then talked about his mother.  "She's out of the country visiting my grandmother," he said.  "She called me the other day wondering if she'll be able to get back into this country when she's scheduled to return in February, and I couldn't tell her, 'Yes, of course.'"  He too burst into tears.  Later I watched part of Stephen Colbert.  I felt some relief as he showed a picture of Trump sitting calmly beside President Obama in the White House.  That in itself was disturbing--that a picture of Trump appearing -- even appearing-- to be civil is now all it takes to make me feel relieved.  Then the image of Trump making fun of a disabled reporter flashed through my mind, and any relief I had felt vanished.

Years ago, a friend painted my portrait.  Before she began, I asked her not to show my "deformed" left hand. 
Months ago, another friend interviewed me about having a disability for a project he was working on.  His friend who is a photographer took several pictures of me to go with the recording  of  our conversation.  I hated most of them.  It was all too clear that I have cerebral palsy and very bad scoliosis.  I chose a head shot precisely because it hid my disability, even though I had just talked--very openly --about that disability.  I'm not proud that I am so embarrassed about my body.  My feelings defy everything I try to teach others about how they should treat me; about how they should treat anyone who has a disability.  But it's true.  I am embarrassed about my body.  Even while it is also true that I don't believe I should be, and while I also know at some very real level that different is not ugly or bad.

Decades ago, someone else with a disability called me a "crip".  "I can do that," he said, "because I'm a crip too."  I practically bit his head off.  "No, you can't!" I told him.  "I don't care who you are.  Don't ever call me that.  My name is Mary."

I'm rethinking all of that now.  Or maybe the better word is re-feeling it. "Cripple" or "crip" is still my least favorite word in the English language, and it's still not ok for anyone, disabled or not, to call me that.   Anyone that is, except possibly. . .  me.

In my effort to steel my soul against the poison which spewed from Donald Trump about people like me, I re-read an essay by one of my favorite authors, Nancy Mairs.  Mairs is a woman of faith who thinks deeply.  She use to write a column I loved for The Christian Century.  She is a feminist who writes in support of other women writers.  She has a wicked sense of humor.  She is also a woman with a disability.  She has multiple sclerosis, and she writes about that with humor, grace, and gut-level honesty.  One of her best known essays is titled On Being a Cripple, in which she writes, "People--crippled or not--wince at the word 'cripple'. . . .  Perhaps I want them to wince. . . . As a cripple, I swagger."

In the spirit of Nancy Mairs, so help me God, one day I will plant my decidedly S-shaped body in my power chair, floor it until I am parked directly, dangerously, and unavoidably in front of Donald Trump's toes, raise my fist-curled , "deformed" hand into the air, and shout at the top of my lungs:



Sunday, November 13, 2016

Cardinals Come in the Winter

A very nice woman came into my life recently.  She helped me de-clutter my apartment and reorganize the stuff I chose to keep.  A professional, she surveyed my space at our first meeting and quickly assessed what was important to me.  Among my most important possessions, she judged correctly, were things my mother gave me.  On the day of her last visit, the woman who was helping me unearthed a handmade wooden cardinal from a box in the back of my closet, and held it out to me. 
"My mother gave that to me," I said, indicating I wanted to keep it.
"Ok, that's beginning to be not enough reason to keep things, " she replied, adding, "We're running out of room."
It was an uncharacteristic response, and it felt like a punch in the stomach.  "You can put it on the top shelf there," I insisted.  She scanned the shelf I pointed to, noting the things it already contained.
"That doesn't work for me," she responded.
"It works for me," I said.
Later that night, I thought about why that wooden cardinal is so important to me.

Outside the kitchen window of the house where I grew up, my mother hung a bird feeder every winter.  She faithfully kept it filled so she could watch the birds come and go from its perch.  One afternoon as I sat at the kitchen table, I happened to glance out the window.   I was awestruck.  There at the bird feeder, in stark contrast to the gray sky and snow covered ground, was a brilliant red cardinal.  I shared my sense of wonder with my mother.  Neither of us mentioned that moment again.  The following Christmas, which was about a year later, I looked at my very full stocking as I came downstairs.  Pushing its way out of the top of the knitted material was a handmade wooden red cardinal.  My mother said not a word, but I knew--It was a bond between us forever.

This was suppose to be a reflection on the stories we miss--on the clues we fail to pick up and the stories we never hear because we are tired or harassed or too preoccupied to listen.  It would have been good to think about that.  But this past week has changed the contours of my mind in huge ways, as it has changed the contours of so much else in the world.  Now this is just about something I learned from my mother:  Cardinals come in the winter.  I need to spread the seeds which will eventually entice them to come.