Tag Archives: humanity

The Experience of Exclusion: Incorporeal Embodiment

I am a ghost, but have not died
I walk among the living unseen
Apart from the occasional, startled stare
Everyone else looks quickly away

I am a ghost, but have not died
I speak, though I’ve rarely been allowed a voice
It is easier to dismiss some body different from yours
More comfortable to cut me out of conversation than to answer me

I am a ghost, but have not died
My presence alone has sometimes invoked fear
In the mirror of my sightless eyes, you see your vulnerability reflected
And the truth about mortality, long rejected, haunts you

I am a ghost who has not died
The undead vampire taking resources from the able and the strong
A zombie who cannot belong, with whom you need not empathize
I shoulder shadows, bear the burdens outcast from the light

I am a ghost, though I have yet to die
Invisible to most, but not to some
My heartbeat the same in everyone
I long, I love, I ache, I cry

I am a ghost, a human born to die
And in that we aren’t much different, you and I

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Flash Fiction: Bear Necessities

Colby groggily stretched his stiff arms and legs while simultaneously yawning hugely. Yikes, he was sore. He felt some bones creek and pop as they grew accustomed to the rather novel concept of motion.

How long had he been sleeping? It felt to him as though an entire age had gone by. His body ached as if he had been sprawled out over sharp rocks and hardpacked dirt for some time. His mouth was disturbingly parched and his eyes felt funny: scratchy and unnaturally heavy. Still lethargic, he decided to keep them closed for now. At least he wasn’t cold, he mused. That fur coat mysteriously wrapped around him was remarkably helpful in that regard…

Colby drifted off again for a brief moment which was rudely cut short by a fierce itch on his nose. He was just about to scratch it when a low rumbling noise startled him completely awake. For a few tense minutes he lay perfectly still, listening. He could hear nothing but a faint drip, drip, drip of water somewhere in the distance. Finally the rumbling noise came again and Colby recognized it for what it was: his growling stomach. He was ravenous. How long had it been since he had eaten? He tried to recall…

Slowly a scene came to mind of a dark snowy day in the Sierras. He had gone camping with some of his friends. They had been looking up at the constellations and one of his friends had pointed and said, “That one is Ursus Major, the bear. Many ancient cultures used to revere bears as the incarnation of the divine feminine and would celebrate the bears return from hibernation as a sign that they would be nourished with the abundance of life needed to survive. The bears taught such people the importance of balance, between activity and receptivity, hibernation and harvest, the more masculine way of doing and the more feminine way of being.”

“That’s fascinating,” Colby had replied with a sincerity that surprised him. After that, he had felt unbearably ill, and after that…After that, memory became unsettlingly fuzzy…

A chill ran down Colby’s spine. His brain was trying to make a connection that he was finding increasingly alarming. The hard ground, the steady drip of water, the furry coat… that was it. Fuzzy. Furry and fuzzy and fuzzy? Fuzzy? He was fuzzy! Colby opened his eyes and stared at the appendage that had absently moved into the vicinity of his itchy nose. With increasing terror, he counted five gleaming claws attached to padded toes which extended out of a very furry paw. As the paw slowly settled itself back onto the unforgiving ground, fear turned to horror. The paw was attached to him. What in the final recollections of his immediate past had been a human arm and hand were now a hefty bear’s limb. What on earth…

With a shutter, Colby forced himself to lumber to his feet. It was bizarre to suddenly be a quadruped – for one thing he was already missing his opposable thumbs. For another, his eyes did not register his world the way his human eyes had,. In his defense it was dark, very very dark. Where was he? Certainly not in his apartment bedroom in San Francisco, California, that was for sure. There was no sign of civilization, let alone a bed, his clothes, or any human belongings. No signs of his friends or the camp, either.

Colby tried to frown, but merely grunted with the effort of forcing his face into an expression that was apparently not typical of bears. A cave? Could he really be in a cave? As if in mocking answer, a cool musty draft wafted past him from a chink in a nearby rock. Winter, bears, cave … no! Colby froze. He couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t be, could it? The claws on his left paw tapped the ground anxiously.

Humans don’t do this, he thought furiously. Human beings don’t suddenly turn into bears who find themselves coming out of hibernation. What kind of nightmare was this?

Soon, he told himself, soon I’ll be back in my sleeping bag greeting the day with my friends, laughing and joking with them in relief about what a crazy dream I had the night before. To speed this up, he bit his lower lip, hard. That would do it, he thought, satisfied. But his efforts only resulted in a very painful tear in his lip and quite a bit of blood. No joke, he had teeth!

Seconds later, he was running, awkwardly, as fast as possible toward a small glint of light which he hoped was the entrance to the cave and to freedom. He had suddenly heard the roar of a very angry and hurt bear and it was far too close for comfort. It felt like it was right beside him. He was bolting out into a bright spring morning when it dawned on him that he had been that angry hurt bear roaring his pain at his own self-inflicted bite wound. Tentatively, he stopped and took one last look behind him. As far as his eyes could see and his nose could smell, the cave was empty.

Spring, it was spring. Confused, lost and afraid, Colby marked himself on a nearby tree and went in search of food and water. He had no idea what to do or how he’d gotten into this horrible predicament, but for now he would follow his instincts to secure necessities before engaging in any other rational deliberation. For now he only knew one terrible, gut wrenching fact: this was no dream.

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.