This post is part of our series in honor of ADA Awareness Month. While on a national level the focus is disability employment awareness, CKP is focusing on artists.
Going Places: Entry #1
by Randy Smit
About Going Places:
Welcome to an experiment in documentary writing. Randy Smit is director of Compassionate Connection, an organization offering pathways of practice to greater empathy and creativity for all people. This travelogue offers a multidimensional view of his own “ordinary person’s journey.” What follows are glimpses, glimmerings witnessed through the various lenses of its author; the Poet, the Person with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, the Pastor, the Artist/Collaborator… the one holding together and letting loose the many facets of self that contribute to “this splendid ride worth tending.”
There is just way too much… I tell myself this, trying to get underway. I’m recalling how I wrote three different beginnings for my first book of poetry. What is it with me and getting started? My inner critic just reminded me — “You only get to start things once…” Yikes!
It’s time to GO PLACES, I know… and I can hear the engine running within, purrs like a kitten, let me rev the gas…
There is this beginning — Now. There is Last Winter’s Beginning [January-2015] and its faithful forward charge, its many tributaries. There are these many, many ENTRIES.
And now this…
October 2015: POST ONE
“So, what’s it like…?”
What’s it like?
I stare at a shower tile… Watch the steam rise up through the light slanting in between the blinds.
I have no idea. Are you asking for a description? I wonder: Who’s asking? What’s your intention, what’s being presumed…?
What’s it like:
To wear a mustache
to kick a soccer ball
to carry breasts, to have to wear a harness all day long
to bite the side of your mouth so hard it bleeds
to push down in soil, a finger, bare toes
to wait for help
to tear out a check from your bank book?
What’s it like to clean that… Carburetor, coffee pot, vacuum cleaner, armpit, musket barrel, nostril, church bathroom, downspout?
“How can you sit in one place without moving? When you have an itch, what then? How do you help them find it? What if you are alone? What happens inside you when you hear a healing story from the Bible?”
Is it just me or are these questions almost as interesting as the answers?
This one’s okay: “What’s it like to be you?” Maybe that’s because it tries to get at Being… at least if we take it literally. If you ask someone this, they will, of course, start telling you what they do. Which really wasn’t your initial curiosity, although that could be interesting too.
What intrigues me is how even the most basic questions, nevermind your whole being, but even the simplest of things… like looking at a blue garden hose, will vary from person to person. You both observe something, but how do you know what blue feels like as your friend looks at it? How does another, blinking at the Cosmos or a cockroach, experience reality; this buzzing, rich and blazing “thing” called life. This one that they may take in so differently depending upon what’s going on inside of them. Depending on what it’s like to be them.
I have sat in awe of sunrises and turned to another only to hear about their plans that day for dental work to be done and concerns about whether insurance would cover it. What’s it like?
Randy Climbs Everest
There was a billboard for Calvin College [our alma mater] on the way to the movie theater on Saturday that read: You Were Created to Discover.
I was glad to have seen it on the way to a big-screen experience. I love adventure and carry the burden and blessing of a hunger to see what’s next; to pay attention and look around. I try to take notice of where things are headed. What are my circumstances trying to show me? What do they point to?
My wife and I saw the movie Everest, yes I paid for the complete 3-D IMAX experience. What? Was I going to wait for another film more suited to the scale? Besides, the handicapped seats are primo at this theater we like to go to, perfect for those towering visual dazzlers.
But this film had much more than jaw-dropping visual appeal. In it there was a true-life drama unfolding before our eyes.
Essential Needs met through Intentional Collaboration
No need to trigger the spoiler alert. Suffice it to say, a few who we come to know and love in this film, most with sizable hearts and egos and big bucks, find themselves in a logjam at the top of one of the worlds highest mountains and it ends up costing lives.
At a critical juncture, one of the group leaders hosts a meeting and pleads with other teams to join up and make a plan so that critical pathways up the mountainside can be shared. Otherwise, he’s become aware, people will need to wait in bitter temperatures, susceptible to gathering storms. The potential for the bloody suffocation of pulmonary edema, the sacrifice of digits and ear lobes and noses to deep freeze, the cruelties of high-altitude amidst its grandeur and beauty. These are the real conditions they face, what will they choose to do?
He recommends they agree to a circulating schedule as a way of ensuring all have plenty of oxygen and that bridge traffic will be regulated over the mountains deepest crevasses. But his pleas fall on deaf ears. Combative climbers worry about losing their chance to make the summit should they be forced to wait for others.
In the end, four individuals do not make it back.
It’s been on my mind a lot since seeing this film. Collaboration could have offered a pathway through for these folks. They shared a common passion and mutual vulnerability to severe, apathetic mountain conditions. Fearing the necessary pain of self-sacrifice, surrendering their dreams, played a significant part in their choosing. And it only took a few to go their own way to make cooperation impossible for the good of the whole group. An opportunity to connect with one another, to assess vital values and give themselves space to flesh out all their alternatives was not seized. So,
Take Away One — Randy and Friends… Lean into your nature as interdependent beings or you humans may continue to struggle in every manner of your adventures.
Will we accept both the breathtaking and austere realities of our common condition? Can we stay awake to each other? Our thirsts for goodness, truth, beauty… discovery — belong to us all. Aware that each of our destinies lies in the hands of the other, will we make the necessary adjustments on this trek we share? Maybe that’s how we find out what it’s like?
I wonder: What would some intentional collaborative care look like today… in my life, in Europe or the Middle East? In your neighborhood? In your home?
I’ll leave you today with a poem I shared at a celebration of diversity in Grand Rapids Michigan just a few weeks ago. As I navigate my mountain ranges, the sometimes rugged conditions of the journey, I’m glad to find invitations to feel things out loud and to discover thereby, nourishing, evocative visions of a whole and collaborative human community.
September 15, 2015
Rosa Parks Circle
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Did you know, if I had a chip on my shoulder
the size of DeVos Hall it would cost me $13,000
and at least several months to find a sensitive, capable, reliable
caregiver to brush it off? [In fact 2 would be best]
And that from time to time I feel
like I could just start running for it —
listen to that voice saying:
Announce your candidacy: Call upon the most vulnerable, you know, guys like you, to lead the world toward itself, its peace, its gentleness… Toward true sightedness…
Or maybe an anchorman could announce it:
Today cyberspace witnessed millions of disabled people around the globe gathered on social media to unite their voices on behalf of the worlds most routine recipients… of almost everything you can imagine.
Their electric banner reads — Fragile friends and family, Move toward one another in wonder. Come alive tender people. Maybe the weakest link ain’t exactly what we think.
Yes sometimes — I have a sense that the standard issue ambulatory bipeds are destined to live as they will live…
and I could talk and think and choose from this bitterness – just be sad about it or pissy or sometimes
I could slow down and try to remember that I too, every now and then, take things one step at a time…
I know the tall ones will usually be the ones to open the door… to decide who’s coming in to share their opus.
But not here, not now…
You’ve got to listen to this body, or you’ll be hearing from it after while, for sure…
You could try to put it inside a church… posit a smart, effective, well intended, caregiving God, who works for free…
You could put some folks like that inside of a city that cares about caring, run a River of Hope — why not a Grand one — right through it
You might be surprised what could happen.
Lend the limited, wounded ones a try at healing, see what stirs… watch bone and sinew coalesce, give a nod to Ezekiel. Sing hallelujah to the spine, the muscles, the empathy, the atrophy, the way we were.
We’ve got to listen to this body. Gather in a public square, which is a circle of life, have them repeat after you, Say —
Only we can voice us
Who us? We us!
Now who’s talking, We are talking
Because we are WE, and that’s just us
I guess, all of us.
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