Tag Archives: discrimination

Instruction of the Next Generation

It was a beautiful Thursday morning and I was out walking with my guide dog, Allegro, whom I have lately been referring to as “my labradorable,” because of his incredible cuteness. If it were safe to run the trail at Aquatic Park, perhaps we would have. But it isn’t safe to run with a guide dog, and this is particularly true for me because for some reason I often find myself ahead of my dog, and you just don’t want the blind human leading the sighted assistance dog. It defeats the whole point. Anyway, we resorted, instead, to walking so quickly that we could have been mistaken for running, but technically were not. Birds sang, very few people came by, the air was clear, the sun was shining but even in the sun it was wonderfully cool, and I was managing to be exceptionally quiet and not trip on anything which surprised me.

I had too much work to do to make the entire loop around the park that morning, so we stopped at an odd piece of wood and some other material imbedded for some inexplicable reason in the road, which makes an excellent landmark, and I gave Allegro a few minutes of being an ordinary dog. He sniffed around happily as I checked the time. We’d gone 3/4 of a mile in twenty minutes flat, which surprised me once again. I’m not particularly in shape, and I wasn’t running, of course.

Completely immersed in the joy of being able to move and be outside, we made time back the other direction just as quickly. I was not a “blind person on a walk,” although I was walking, and still blind. I did not “look blind” whatever that means, and the phrase should be abolished in my opinion. I looked like myself. I walked tall. Even when walking uphill I managed to stand straight, the way my dad taught me to do a few weeks ago. I smiled at people who walked by. I carried myself like I was sure of my belonging in this world, because of that I am completely sure. I did not move cautiously, but like I trust myself to find my way, and hold my own, because I am learning that I can.

Perhaps that is why the little boy said hi to me as I made my way up the sidewalk back to the main road. There was quite a gathering of children on the sidewalk, actually. I’m starting to wonder if there is an elementary school nearby there? Perhaps parents or teachers like to bring the kids there to play. The park has an extensive playground, awesome for a child. Most of the kids walking toward me were talking amongst themselves and this is honestly what I expected all of them to do. I was on a walk by myself and had no need to have a conversation with anyone.

But the last kid to walk by, who sounded like he was between ten and twelve, who was walking with an adult, slowed down and said hello. And I smiled at him and said hello in return and kept walking.

The adult with the group was either a teacher or his or someone else’s mother. I could hear both of their sets of footsteps behind me, and the woman slowed down slightly. The little boy asked, his voice conveying indignant confusion, “What!” I hear that same tone from kids who are being caught out at something which they shouldn’t have done. What, indeed? What had the kid done wrong?

But I could guess the what, in vivid detail. The “what” went like this: the kid had done nothing that “he shouldn’t have done,” but instead, he did something that “people don’t do.” It is a very important distinction, which the adult with him did not make, and by example started to teach him to not make it likewise. It starts with a look. You know the one. You’re fixed with it by someone with more power than you, usually while you are a child looking up, literally and figuratively to the older and wiser grown-ups around you. You got that look when you picked your nose in public, took off your bathing suit in the baby pool when you were a little too old to get away with it, and perhaps when you said hello to a person with a disability when you were twelve, because you’re sociable and like to acknowledge people you pass on the road. Shhhh, it isn’t done. But I’m on the little boy’s side here. What is that about? Why on earth isn’t it as normal to talk to me as it is to talk to anyone else? My abilities, or lack of them, should not matter that much.

Now, I am not advocating for everyone to pick their nose or run around naked. Most social norms are fine. They’re there for a reason, and a really good one at that. However, I become terribly, terribly sad when I see an adult perpetuating social norms that are exclusionary, that harmfully stereotype and prejudge those different from oneself. This kind of “us” and “other” mentality is the source of sexism, racism, and religious wars, as well as ablism– discrimination based on ability– and is at the root of many more instances of intolerant attitudes and actions as well. It perpetuates destructive social barriers, reinforcing a separateness that deforms relationships and further entrenches false beliefs and perceptions that are as devaluing of the people who hold them as they are of the people at whom such perceptions are aimed. What are we saying to our children when we admonish them for acting politely toward another human being, insinuating they have made some social blunder, insisting, wrongly, that the person they were about to speak to is in a different category, has a disability, and so needs to be treated accordingly?

This is how discrimination against people with disabilities continues, It is passed on from one generation to the next. It starts with the planting of a seed, and grows until we are afraid of one another, until we believe the stereotypes, the lies, the myth of our own separateness. Until we cannot think critically about the distinction between the inculcation of healthy social norms and the perpetuation of ignorance, misunderstanding, distrust, falsehood, and fear.

Sometimes children know more than we adults who think we are in fact so much older and therefore wiser. It is too easy to be like that woman and project your insecurities, stereotypes, and limiting beliefs onto the children in your care, or onto your friends and family who might think differently. I was unsure how to salvage the moment and reassure the adult, as much as the child, that it is perfectly okay to talk to someone who is blind. But there seemed little I could do. What would you do?

I continued believing in myself. I continued walking tall. I know the truth about myself no matter what others are or are not doing. I hoped the child might know an adult who could now teach him an even harder lesson: that not all adults are right, that we can make mistakes, grave mistakes, that we are all equal, and to trust himself. I kept on going my way. Then I decided to share this experience. What world do we want to leave to our children? The answer to that question rests, in part, on what we impart to them about the ways in which we live and accept and belong. It is as simple and as difficult as putting aside our preconceived notions of who we and other people ought to or are told to be, and being open to finding out who we really are, celebrating our differences, and by doing so, becoming part of the incredible difference that will make.

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Growing Up As a Blind Child

Through a one-way mirror, they eyed me,
Between us, their watchful eyes conceived the distance
And I began to lose definition.

I of the many translucent faces,
They sanded smooth my jagged edges
Painting them invisible with a missing shade of blue.

They glossed over my differences until I faded into the background
Molding my experiences so that they mapped onto their figures
Until I reflected their perspective thickly occluded.

They even tried to put an eraser
To that unusual glow that seemed to linger
Out of curiosity and the innocence of a child.

And my little ash child remembers their walls:
There were walls,
To keep her out, to contain her with,

But she saw through and far beyond them
How they were made for someone small, so she ignored and walked around them,
And the walls came tumbling down, and that is how they found them.

For a long time I searched for something to shelter me
Until with free hands I rebuilt my foundations,
And only then could I love what I made.

I’ve sought and found the knowledge
That they kept from me with stones.
I have survived their stares, I have stared back.

I have stood within the changing tides,
And learned the language of the wild song,
The one to which I’ve now come home, echoed in the blinking of an eye.

I rekindled trust as if I were tending the cauldron of Cerridwen
And in the river of memories I washed off the dust:
Why had I never seen myself before?

It was like repeating an unrecognizable name, until I realized it was mine.
It was like discovering I was a firefly,
When no one believed I could shine.

And now Across the bridge of overcoming,
I come bringing brokenness to light.
Bright beams alight along the road,

Pooling there like fallen stars, to guide my weary ash-child’s way.
Back through the darkness I reach out, the whole of her I carry in my arms,
And Whisper through her troubled dreams, I am here.

I who leapt among the flames, made it to the other side,
Tenderly I take hold of my ash child’s hand,
And into the blue, together we rise.

Along The Road _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 7

It was Friday, two and a half weeks after I first offered to Caoilte that, as the fianna had no permanent place to live here in the actual world, they could call my small but functional place home. I was exhausted. There were just so, so many of them. Every couple hours when I was home, there were around four groups of five or so who’d come through, and most likely more when I was sleeping, and more when I was gone. They were very respectful and, being disembodied, very quiet. But I was sharing space with them, and it’s very different keeping up a place for many rather than just one. I did end up with some alone time, but never knew for how long it would last, or whether, if someone showed up, there would be something expected of me to do.

 

There were a few times I’d thought of letting Caoilte know this wasn’t working for me, but wasn’t sure whether he’d be understanding or not. I also was extremely stubborn, and every time I came close to actually attempting to contact Caoilte, I’d decide that I could at least attempt to get used to living like this, as everyone else seemed to be, (everyone else had, it seemed, been living in close proximity in groups even in the otherworld, and weren’t phased in the slightest.)  I certainly wasn’t going to give up the minute I felt tired or it became difficult to make good on what I’d promised to do. After all, I’d offered my hospitality, and it would be bad form to change my mind this early on. Besides, I could not imagine a fian backing out of a difficult task, and although I wasn’t a fian myself, I was in some sort of relation important to them or they wouldn’t have included me in the first place. So, I decided to keep learning from the experience, be grateful that I got to meet so many people, and keep up my practice of casting circles around me if I wanted the kind of privacy which would render me truly invisible.

 

On this particular Friday, I was frazzled not just because I’d been entertaining somewhere between fifty and a hundred people, but because it had been the kind of week where I was running into all sorts of obstacles due to my disability. This is a sighted world, and often it isn’t made for me, or at least that’s how it feels. I’d spent hours trying to make the correct formatting on a single poem on the blog. I was trying to finish an a cappella album of music, and as if attempting to record it whenever neither the refrigerator nor the Amtrak trains were running wasn’t enough, I also could only get Audacity to work with sighted assistance. The person I paid to be my assistant was ill and couldn’t show up, which meant I spent five hours that Wednesday including transit and wait time going to shop alone to Trader Joe’s, rather than the mere hour and a half it would have taken with a sighted guide with a car. For all the negative impact cars have on the environment and the planet, the freedom they offer is often taken for granted by those who have them and longed for by those who don’t. Someone without a car, whether sighted or blind, simply has fewer options in the world as to where to travel, and how much to get done in one day.  And ordinary activities such as meeting a good friend for lunch or doing something spontaneous must always be weighed against the hours and hours of transit time and the meticulous planning involved.

 

Being blind confounds these limitations, and adds more to the growing list. When the bus driver forgets to announce my stop in an area with which I am unfamiliar, I not only have to walk an extra five or so blocks but also, usually, get lost. It’s way too easy to be late somewhere because the bus is late, there’s construction, or a light has stopped working. Sometimes buses pull up in the middle of the street, and I miss them as I don’t even know they’re there. Sometimes four or five buses pull up at a stop at once, and it’s necessary to literally run from one to the other and back asking each driver the name of the bus and hoping, if that’s not the right one, that I can find the right one before it leaves. In other words, it gets very complicated, very quickly.

 

It was that kind of week, one with which I am all too familiar, in which I was being told or shown, implicitly or explicitly, that I would have to miraculously reattach my retinas if I ever wanted to participate in the kind of living the world had to offer me. The alternative would be to completely adjust my own expectations and goals, so that they fit the limitations the world was prescribing for me, and I of course found such an option intolerable. Yet the problem really did seem to be that I did have expectations and standards, and it was not just the world that didn’t measure up to them: I did not meet my own expectations either.

 

Given all this, when I installed a new version of Audacity onto my computer and the sound was suddenly muted, rendering every capability it had useless to me, I lost it. A muted computer means I can’t work on anything. It’s akin to having your hard drive go out, and every project you’re working on is suddenly gone. The difference, to my mind it seemed, was that whereas the problem with a hard drive is internal to the computer, the problem with muting was internal to myself. If I could only see, nothing would have been amiss for more than a few seconds. Retrospectively, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time feeling sorry for myself: but that is what happened.

 

I did have the wherewithal at this point to get out of the house. I decided to take a walk down by the bay at Aquatic Park, hang out with nature (the great equalizer of all beings) and soak up some sunshine. Perhaps the light outside me would blaze out the darkness that was threatening to swamp the space within me, threatening to convince me I was actually worth nothing despite appearances, and that giving up my expectations entirely was the only option. Somewhat miserably I made my way across the Amtrak tracks at breakneck speed as to not be caught on them if the bell went off, and wound my way more slowly down the cracked tree-rooted sidewalk to the path by the bay.

 

The bay at Aquatic Park is actually a lake. Building up the area had caused some of the bay to be cut off from the rest by filled land (not landfill, but legitimate land that was used to displace the water.) It’s an incredibly difficult challenge to stay angry while birds are calling, ducks are splashing about and quacking, children are shrieking on a playground, and trees are rustling in the wind. I decided it wasn’t a challenge worth taking, so I let go of the anger. The anger of course was more with myself than at any one in particular, and the more I lost myself in the surrounding world I love to which I’ve always belonged, the world of earth and wind, water and trees, laughter and song, I forgot the meaningless chatter of the world of illusion that humans have constructed which had never been able, let alone ever had the intention, to adopt me.

 

I was now no longer angry, but disheartened and sad. I felt sad because so much of my life in this world is spent alone in isolation, partly due to my disability, and partly due to one of the occupational hazards of being a philosopher. Sad because many people are so afraid of blindness that they would rather exclude me than ever consider whether there would be value in getting to know me. Sad because this manifest world often shuts me out, and I am not the only one who experiences this kind of banishment caused by prejudice and discrimination. As I walked, I thought about how so many people, for varying trivial reasons, from race to ability, gender preference to objectifying standards of appearance, are given the message to find their way elsewhere. There are only a few groups of people for which this world is truly made, but none of those who have been rejected have ever thought to band together, to find commonalities among their differences, including the fact of their differences, and create the communities they long for. (More on that later.)

 

I thought about how I was sad because most of my ways of belonging rarely, if ever, fall within any shared reality I have with others in this world. Some part of me still remembers the world I would have gone to at six months of age if I hadn’t wanted to see what life was like instead. A part of me still recognizes that world as home, and has never adapted to this one. A part of me has always belonged their more than here.  As an adult, I walk both worlds, one foot in each of them, belonging holy to neither, and for that I am a wanderer. In a way, it was no surprise that I wanted to try to create once again somewhere between this world and the next a place where other wanderers like myself are welcome. I’d still like to do that, actually, but not at my house.

 

As these thoughts went streaming as they always do through my head, I continued walking through the park, watching the motion of the water, feeling the branches of trees waving over my head, and noticing all the people who were also walking out on this beautiful autumn afternoon. That is when I saw Oisin walking toward me, not particularly on the road. I looked up, and our eyes met.   Much passes between people without words. And so it was then, an exchange of all each of us was in that moment, which would have taken embodied humans several days to talk through to the end.

 

He walked over and took my hand. For a long time we walked in silence this way, I between Allegro and Oisin, connected to both of them. The quiet calm compassion that Oisin has for all living things seemed to wrap around all three of us, and I felt at peace, more at peace than I could remember ever feeling. Any sense that I was less than anyone had simply vanished. Any trace of feeling like a wayward orphan who neither fit in, nor could make sense of the world had vanished also. This was unconditional acceptance, and I knew I was blessed to experience such unconditional belonging while in this world. It is the belonging we all share in the world beyond, and it was not just mine to look forward to, but mine to have, here and now.

 

Holding hands with an otherworld person is a unique experience. It’s obviously not like holding hands with an embodied person. Unlike human hands, otherworld people’s hands are cold and also obviously lack any density or definition. Though my hand felt cold, it didn’t actually drop in temperature, and it felt almost like it was about to fall asleep without the unpleasantness of actually falling asleep, like there were currents of energy coursing through it. I was fascinated by the experience. Somehow we could reach each other across worlds, world boundaries notwithstanding, as if, I thought, such boundaries were only precursory or nonexistent.

 

When I’d completely become grounded and he thought I was all right, Oisin let go of my hand and started walking a bit ahead of me, now actually following the road. I smiled at that. In order to hold my hand, I realized, he’d had to walk through the reeds and other plant life lining the path down to the water, and at some points he would have been actually walking in (on?) the water. I was impressed, though I suppose it made no difference where he was concerned. No embodied person could have pulled that off. There were advantages being an otherworld person, I mused, even if you can no longer enjoy manifest world food.

 

We’d been walking together for a few minutes more when a thought occurred to me, one which I admit I’d never before considered. The thought was this. Here I was, walking with Oisin, and he not only was from another world but had lived long, long ago. Surely he’d know things I never would have imagined, and I hadn’t thought to ask him any questions. I could ask, I realized, any question I wanted, though I might not get an answer to every question I could ask.

 

For a moment I thought hard about what kind of question I’d ask such a one. Perhaps not a question about his, or even our, past, I decided. I did have endless questions about the past, but felt that any answer to such questions would be information only, and I wanted to ask something of more permanence than mere information.   I realized too that like most people he wouldn’t be able to answer a question about the future, mine or his. I wanted to ask an experiential, not just factual question. One that could transcend languages and time, cultures and conceptions of the good. I already knew we had some philosophical disagreements, and wanted to avoid them at the moment.

 

When I’d finally settled on a question, I asked it in pictures. “Oisin,” I asked, “Can I see the world through your eyes? Can I experience the world as you experience it?”

One Among Many _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 4

Aoife slumped onto the hard wooden floor of her apartment living room.  Her eyes were threatening to spill over with tears.  She was not crying for herself, but for a local person named Robin who had almost died.  A teenager had stabbed Robin, who looked like a boy, because Robin was wearing a skirt in public.  Onlookers had done nothing, save one who finally called the police and helped take the twelve year old to the hospital.  Robin identified as asexual, neither male nor female, and while Robin’s parents were very supportive, obviously not everyone was.  Robin’s assailant found the child’s choices unacceptable enough to attempt murder over it.  Of course Robin was not the only one to be a victim of hatred and prejudice, only supremely lucky to have not joined the statistics of the dead.

 

Today, there had been a service to raise awareness of the need to accept and tolerate everyone whose body (by choice or no) failed to meet the relentlessly insidious cultural mandate for external normalization.  In other words, it brought awareness to just how pervasively normal it was to reject, shun, or make invisible anyone whose body did not conform appropriately to the mainstream standards of gender, beauty, wholeness, or ability.  Aoife had been more than moved by what she witnessed.

 

As a child, Aoife had spent countless school recesses isolated and alone.  Her peers did everything they could to stay as far away from her as possible.  She had all five senses, two arms and two legs, and could walk, but her accident at age two had done a bit more damage than simply make certain tasks harder for her to accomplish.  It had also disfigured her face at a time when facial reconstruction had not even reached its infancy.  Her school peers wouldn’t let her forget how different she was.  Isolation was better than outright bullying, she was often told as an adult (if the subject ever came up.)  But Aoife’s struggles to fit in as a child served to attune her particularly to the pain and anguish felt by all those who experience ostracism, exclusion, prejudice, or sometimes even contempt and hatred.

As she sat listening to people tell story after story of discrimination and loss, pieces of a puzzle she had not even been aware of, whose formation had been long in the making, all fell into place.  The stories all had different content, but it was clear to Aoife that the structure of the stories, the why and to whom of them, was eerily similar. 

 

There was a  mother who lost her baby after a care giver shook her for daring to cry.  There was an elderly woman who’s first husband died for the color of his skin.  There was a woman who told of an intersexed child who committed suicide after her family disowned her when she told them that she identified with the gender they had not picked for her at birth.  A widow of one of two conjoined twins related the deaths of her husband and his brother at the hands of a religious zealot who felt that witnessing another couple’s intimate moments, something the conjoined twins had to do by necessity,  was a punishable mortal sin.  There was a young man who told of how his sister had overdosed on meds after enduring relentless threats and bullying on Facebook.  People told stories of being denied housing and jobs due to disabilities, and of friends who were killed because they were transgendered, or gay.  They sang their stories.  They danced their stories.  And through song and dance, young and old alike wove a tapestry of sorrow sewn with the seeds of ignorance, discrimination, and fear.  Aoife saw the patterns of thread common to them all: the systematic rendering of unusual embodiment as defective or deviant.  She saw   souls shatter for their appearance, recognized the silencing of those who dared speak the truths of difference. 

 

She allowed herself to surrender to the grief, having as she did permission from the others around her who were equally affected.  She ached with empathy, full of a despair that threatened to overwhelm her spirit.  More than these, however, was the overpowering need to act.  The need consumed her, hummed within her just below the murmur of her blood, seeped into the marrow of her bones, called out to her like a lost and wailing child.  We are all the same, came the cry from where inside herself she did not know.   We are all connected.  If one is not accepted, none can take solace anywhere. 

 

The discrimination faced by those with disabilities was not specific to a group, not different in kind from racism or sexism or homophobia.  The destructive messages to young girls in magazines were not teen issues but human issues.  Working for the rights of some while continuing to discriminate against women, look down on people from different classes, dispise a religious group, or fail to respect children continued to create the illusion that interdependence was less than a law of nature.  More than ever before, Aoife believed, she felt, she knew that separation was a lie.  It occurred to her that if our fears, prejudices, isolation, ostracism, and rejection were so interrelated, surely our belonging, tolerance, acceptance, curiosity, thoughtfulness, and respect were just as inextricably linked.  The world in which she lived was an interwoven world, one in which every sound, every action, every person altered everything around her simply by living.  The pattern had always been there, she realized.  It was the change in her which allowed her to see it now.

 

Aoife had not spent the entire past month living in such emotional intensity.  She had gone to today’s event with a friend, a friend she hadn’t known a month before.  She had met Ashlee at the first meeting of the druid seed group she’d attended.  It was a group of women who would become her second family.  Ashlee also had an ability to see and speak to otherworld people, and the two hit it off immediately.  Before the meeting was over, they had already set a date for coffee.

 

After ordering a hot chocolate and an espresso respectively at the quaint local Starbucks, Aoife and Ashlee began a lively discussion of their families, childhoods, life goals, and professional lives.  Finally they turned to a discussion about otherworld beings, how they saw them, and what they were learning.  Ashlee had an affinity with Sequoia trees and often had such long, patient, enduring conversations as those which are characteristic of trees:   The kind that unfold and enfold, rather than trip on words or hasten to a conclusion.  She could speak to the spirits that inhabited a place—a river for instance—and learn from them just how much damage human pollution was causing the water and the animals depending on it.  Sometimes when she closed her eyes, Ashlee could see the stars as if the milky way was imprinted right there on her eyelids.  She knew the memories of roads, the history and origins of wooden decks.  She knew what it was like for a bridge to feel the sway of a fierce wind, and that even the mountains could breathe. 

 

Aoife was entranced by her new friend’s recounting of all this, and felt wonder at the awesome and breathtaking experiences given to her.  Finally Ashlee asked Aoife about her experiences.  Aoife began with the faery folk she had seen as a child, the small noble people who danced in clearings and glades, lit the trees at twilight, and sparkled like jewels in the creek that meandered through the woods.  She told of meeting Athena who had taught her that wisdom and weaving were one and the same.  “Everything is interconnected.  Those who believe otherwise, are not wise.  Wisdom is knowing the difference between that which is part of everything else, which simply is, and that which appears separate which never was.” Athena had instructed.  Aoife lost count of how many times she needed to be reminded of these words.  And then she told of coming home after her time wandering the desert, and how she had met Oisin and Caoilte.

 

“That’s incredible,” Ashlee said a bit wide-eyed.  “So Caoilte taught you to stand tall, and then offered to run with you.  Did you get to run with him yet?”

 

“Oh yes, we ran together twice now,” Aoife said with a smile in her eyes.

“And…” Ashlee asked expectantly. 

 

“Well, I suck at running, so Caoilte ran super slow, slow for him that is, so I could keep up.  We ran out on one of the trails through the woods, up a hill and then down near a creek on the other side.  It was a very beautiful part of the woods, but I was too busy trying to breathe to pay attention.  I held out for about five minutes before feeling like I would pass out.”

 

The two friends laughed at the image.  “You don’t look out of shape,” Ashlee offered helpfully.

 

“By some standards I’m not, but the last time I ran any distance, I was ten years old.” Aoife explained.  “Fortunately Caoilte took pity on me and we walked the rest of the trail, and if he thought anything about my less than meager running ability he never said anything.  When I suggested that next time we run a much steeper path with lots of exposed tree roots zigzagging across it (because I still felt like I should attempt to meet a good challenge,) he cautioned that it would be highly impractical.”

 

“Well he definitely sounds sensible to me.  I certainly wouldn’t be able to run that trail, I know the one you mean,” Ashlee replied thoughtfully. “So where did you go on the second run?”

 

“The next week we ran the same easier trail again, except that this time Caoilte tried giving me some tips on how to move while running—how to land on my feet differently than if I was just walking, how to move my arms in rhythm with my steps more parallel to the ground than at my sides, that sort of thing.  I valiantly tried, but the suggestions only had the effect of making me look like a renegade puppet in desperate need of outside intervention.  I couldn’t make any of my movements flow naturally so I kind of just bobbed around with aimless exertions of effort.  Caoilte and I both laughed at the absurdity of the situation then, and he was quick to assure me that it really didn’t matter because the whole thing was just supposed to be for fun, which it was.  We walked for a while before I turned to him and asked a question I had been pondering for a while.  My curiosity could no longer be ignored.  I asked him whether there were more modern people who had, after death, joined with those fianna who became guides.”

 

Ashlee listened intently.  She was fascinated by her new friend’s ability to talk so candidly with otherworld folk as if they might have belonged to this world, still.  “You mean there might be people throughout all the generations after the fianna lived who would want to take up with them after they died?”

 

“Well, not exactly,” Aoife admitted.  Caoilte made it clear that no one was actually a member of the fianna, the way they might have been in the second century.  In the other world, such hierarchies and class distinctions were meaningless and nonexistent.  He had explained this after once again changing expression from curious to serious in that characteristic way of his.  Aoife said, “Caoilte shared that yes there are many people who become guides, and a few who not only dedicate themselves to assisting others in the manifest world once they cross over into the other world, but also take as their own the three values that we live by: the truth in our hearts, the strength in our hands, and fulfillment on our tongues.  And then of course he added that the whole thing was phrased slightly differently in the otherworld where nobody actually had tongues or hands and the notion wouldn’t make sense.  He has this way of being solemn without taking himself or others too seriously, you know.  He went on to point out that such an otherworld arrangement made it possible for people who had been any age or gender in life to be counted with them, one among many, and made a point to assure me that the otherworld was all about equal opportunity.”

 

Ashlee laughed at that.  “Seems like people continue to learn and grow, even after their time here is over.”

 

“Absolutely,” Aoife agreed smiling as well.  “I don’t think I ever mentioned myself in any of this, but here is the rest of what Caoilte told me.  He said, ‘just because Oisin and I sought you out doesn’t mean you have any obligation to join us.  We never compel anyone to do anything.  We are all free persons, and how you choose to live, whether or not you want to be counted with us, it is entirely up to you.  We’ll keep sharing what we know with you whether you are one of our own or not’.”

 

When Caoilte said this, Aoife had been full of gratitude and great respect.  Here was this person who, perhaps for the first time in her short life, was showing her at that very moment the meaning of unconditional acceptance.  She had never had such acceptance from her family.  For sure, they loved her, but their love always had strings attached.  She was lovable if she did what her mother wanted, accepted by her father only when she could pass as normal.  If she ever disagreed with her mother and stood her ground, there would be hell to pay.  If she ever failed her father’s lofty expectations of her, he would withdraw affection—subtly, in ways that were noticeable only to Aoife and imperceptible to the outside world of casual observers and acquaintances.  Aoife did not like to think ill of the dead, but her relationship with her parents had been difficult, fraught with mixed messages, guilt trips, expectations that she alone could fill any number of their bottomless needs, or give them the belief in themselves they sorely found lacking within.  Here was someone she hardly knew, letting her know in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t be expected to put on some kind of performance, pass a test, prove herself, twist herself into a pretzel, act a certain way, be a certain way in order to gain acceptance and belonging.  It was difficult, but once again Aoife found herself forced to believe Caoilte and trust this knew and strange thing, unconditional acceptance, since he wouldn’t have said something he didn’t mean.

 

“Was that something you were thinking about?” Ashlee was asking.

 

“Was what something I was thinking about?” Admittedly, Aoife’s mouth had been speaking, but her mind was busy sorting through connections, making observations, presenting her with scenes and pictures and possibilities, and she forgot what she was specifically talking about.

 

“You know, joining them,” Ashlee said matter-of-factly.

 

Aoife felt oddly threatened by the question so she said curtly, “No of course not.  I’m a druid.  The fianna are warriors, and I have chosen a path of peace.  Besides, I’m not dead.”

 

But long after she left the coffee shop, as one week ran into the next, she wasn’t so sure that being a physically embodied druid and living the truth against the world were at all mutually exclusive.  In fact, a voice she was too frightened to acknowledge was whispering in her inner ear, when it came to the three principles the fianna lived by, it was very, very possible that she was already living by them herself.  She certainly did not have to be dead in order to better align her life with values she already personally held dear.  She was no fighter, but then if the otherworld was as interdependent as she felt it ought to be, physical fighting was right out anyway.  Still, she hated danger and didn’t care to be physically injured or thrown in jail.  She avoided protests like she stayed clear of spiders. If she were ever asked to do something like that, she would never make good on it.

 

All of this was true and yet… and yet hadn’t she been a child advocate since she was three years old?  Hadn’t she  spent years speaking out around the country for those who could not raise their own voices?  Didn’t she unhesitatingly give what she could to whoever was less fortunate to herself?  She simply thought of such things as ordinary and not worth counting in the course of things, but that pesky inner voice continued challenging her to her complete dismay. 

 

What kept her from running, that very instant, from the thoughts quietly taking up their positions in her mind, those thoughts she wished fervently she could just ignore, was the very fact that nothing at all was expected of her.  If Caoilte and Oisin had promised to protect her, it was done with no expectation that she do anything. It was the same, she mused, when she had wanted to help them as a child.  She had no hidden motives, no  expectations of her own.

 

And over the next few weeks Aoife pondered another thing that Caoilte had said.  While showing her a running technique during one of their entertaining excursions, he had paused and made an observation which Aoife figured was meant to apply to much more than running.  “It’s okay to emulate someone when doing something knew, everyone has role models,” he’d said, “But never imitate anyone.  If all you do is strive endlessly to be like everyone else, you won’t ever be who you are.”

 

Now Aoife sat on her floor trembling, thoughts of the day’s discrimination awareness service overcrowding her already frenetically occupied brain.  It was only a matter of minutes until these feelings, these thoughts, the almost futile attempt she had made to integrate all that had happened during the last few weeks, this bewildering suspicion that she was completely over her head, all came crashing together, hurling her out of any last chance of composure.  When shaking and rocking herself like a child who had almost gone unloved wasn’t enough, she jumped up and paced the floor in tears.  When that wasn’t sufficient to express her terrible sadness, her undeterred determination to change what she could, gather the shattered points of light within every last living thing, never mind how absurd that was,  and piece them whole, do what was needed, whatever was needed… she began to shout. 

 

She was glad of two things then: that she lived alone, and that finally after years and years of silence and her nonconsensual apprenticeship within the confining perfect wall flower guild, she had found her voice again.  Even if her words were merely tones, “aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh” and “Om” and “awen,” it was her voice, and that was what mattered.

 

Sound slowly turned into words, and words into exclamations.  She stood tall, closed her eyes, and shouted.   “Is Mise Aoife! Is Mise Aoife! Táim anseo.  Táim anseo I gcónaí.  Is Láidir mé.  Is Mise.  Is mise I gcónaí.” (I am Aoife! I am Aoife!  I am here.  I am always here.  I am strong.  I am. I am, always.)

 

Aoife’s world became sound.  It became moment.  It became one resounding moment.  Rational thought had long since walked out the back gate of her head to take a long leisurely stroll down the path of the familiar.  Aoife was.  She was, always.  What lived in her then was something much older, wiser, eternal, knowing, and unfathomably mysterious.  The kind of ineffable but indomitable spirit that sent logical syllogisms and the tenants of empirical science cowering into old dusty corners, suddenly uncomfortably aware of the limitations of all that is ascertainable and finite.  All Aoife ever was, truly was, emerged like a butterfly breaking out of a cocoon that had become too tight, too small, insignificant.  It has been said that the woman who looked then out of Aoife’s blazing eyes, who stood tall, whose tears were spent, who addressed the world as one who had always known her belonging in it, whose voice pierced the silence that had long overstayed it’s welcome, was a soul as old as the mountains, as vast as the sky, as fragile as flesh and bone, as vulnerable as a two year old in the back seat of an overturned car.  She. Was. Her. Self.

 

Now, there was a moment, right after the man who had first chanced across the fianna’s cave in that story twice blew the dord fian, the ancient hunting horn of the fianna.  The voice of the man’s soul had called to him a third time in that moment, called him to complete what he had started, told him all that was needed, to blow the horn the third time so that those who had slept for so long could finally awaken, could finally return to themselves.  The man heard but did not listen, knew but was too afraid to understand, and so he fled, never looking back.   He did not look to see what had come of his choice to fear, he did not look to see that he had turned on none other than his own soul, he did not ever dare to face that what he was so deathly afraid of was himself.  The fianna had no need to be awoken, but he had such a need, and for him, at least, it never happened.

 

Uncertainty, fear, doubt, these things had no place within the woman who stood transformed, transfixed, in the middle of her living room near the coffee table.  She did not need to ask after what she could do.  For she did understand.  She would finish what was started.  She would see the dawning of the three.  When next she spoke, it was only truth she uttered.  When next she spoke, she asked only for what was already hers to claim.

 

I call you, first among the great fianna of Éire, who fight with deed and song
I call you, you who are eternal in the world beyond the world
I call you to awaken from the depths within us
I am the one who touched the earth with my hands
I am the one who turned my face to the sky and wept for what I had almost been again
I am the one who looked within and wept for not fully being who I am
Blood of my blood and bone of my bone,
I remember you, the clay out of which I am formed belonged to the landscape from whence you came
Out of all I’ve ever been, from time beyond time
From all dormant places locked inside
I call you to arise, rise, rise,
Blaze out from behind our eyes
I, the soul of ages, the spirit that now within myself resides
I will embody that  voice that cries: “I need you, I call you, and it is time.”
I call those I know by name
Those whose lives within our lives remain, I remember.
Those whose lives we never sang, I remember.
Those whose journeys never crossed the white lines of printed page, I commend you.
By star and stone, by earth and sea and sky,
Hear me, hear the three things that I live by
The truth in my heart, the strength in my hands, fulfillment in my words
As a child of the oak I ask to put my hand in your hand and do what is needed
Reach into the recesses of my belonging and cry the truth where most it needs be heard
Answering  foremost as you do to Bríd, whose healing fire shapes and mends you
The source of all divine from which we all were spun
Woven into existence, kindled by the radiance bound not by any world
I stand beside you as a free person, my own unique shining person,
Those whose truth against the world unfurls,
I will serve the cause of justice with you, and live without regret or fear
Be fully, beautifully, exquisitely, wondrously here.
I combine my lot with your own, In this world and the next
For I am, and my song has etched itself into the fabric of all that is
In whatever way I am able, even if right now I do not understand
I will stand, stand with you, and do all I can.

</<

 

Silence. Stillness.  So silent that Aoife could almost hear the earth turn.  So still that the rhythm of her breath, in and out like the tide, continued only as a vestige of motion.  She had only done what was needed.  She had had no expectations.  What may or may not happen next she hadn’t the foggiest idea.  She felt cold, the kind of cold that came to claim her whenever she expended a vast amount of energy.  She was a bit dazed, stunned even.  She blinked.  A few times.  Besides blinking however, she stood perfectly still.

 

When they came, they formed two lines, Aoife between them.  She might have said that she looked into their eyes, but it was they who stared unblinking into hers, and they saw, she felt, not just who she was now but all she had ever been.  They sought and found the measure of her name.  She also did not blink, as much as was possible, and to her bewilderment she matched their gazes, she did not flinch or move or look away.  She stood by her words, she stood on the truth she had always known.  Nothing more was needed.  They saw, and she was everything she had said, and more. 

 

She could not put her hand in theirs, literally.  Having a body where they did not made it a rather complicated matter.  They compensated effortlessly.  She watched in astonishment, profoundly moved, as each put their hands under her own.  She noticed as they passed her how she could not tell their gender or height or glimpse what they wore, or if they carried anything.  They did not come looking like one might have expected.  Such formalities were meaningless to the soul of the world and the pattern of interconnection that they were inextricably a part of, that Aoife was inextricably a part of with them.  As they saw only spirit when they looked at the woman who wished to be one of them, as a druid, oak’s child, so they did not bother with appearances with her and she, too, saw all they had ever been.  In pairs they moved past her.  All she could see were the two walking past at any moment.  All she could feel was the radiant energy that ran like current through her hands as they “held” them, the collisions of two worlds.  She would never know exactly how many passed her, but it seemed to her that at every quarter minute there were two more.  It seemed to her that when she felt surely there would be no others, more others appeared, endlessly.  They did not stop long with her, except for the two who turned, and stood arm and arm with her, looking out with her at the others, and she knew she would have recognized Caoilte and Oisin, even if they had not stood with her the longest.  Later she would learn how she stood there for at least twenty minutes.  Long long after, once her analytic thoughts had reluctantly, begrudgingly returned home to their familiar head, she would calculate that at about two people every fifteen seconds within twenty minutes, she would have met one hundred and fifty people.  The sheer number of them made her head spin.  But it was not how many, but what it felt like to look into their eyes, and be well met by every one, that she would always remember, that everything she ever was would always remember.

 

Once she was alone again, stillness settled back in around her.  Stillness, and awe, and a sense of joy, like returning home.   She could have been overwhelmed by it all, if she wasn’t also more exhausted than she had ever been in her memory.  Peacefully, gently, she fell asleep and slept for many, many hours.  She would not wake until the sun was halfway to the center of the sky.  She drempt of stillness.  That still bead at the center, that had changed everything.