Tag Archives: lessons learned

The Grey One’s Warning

Stop. I stand between, and would have a word with you. I hope that I won’t have to let you by. Why head you this way to take the road of reckoning through the swamp of sorrows, the terrain of trials? It passes through many a land marked by sweat and tears. It puts years on a person who is barely of age. It’s treacherous trails are well worn, for it is said to traverse the hero’s journey.

Who doesn’t want not merely to lead, but be a hero of her life? Why not, indeed. But of that life they say many things, and most know nothing about what it could mean. You already dread that what they say applies to you. But child, of all that has been said, very little is actually true.

Yes, life can be hard and harrowing. This is the reason given by many for why they choose to walk where the toughest brambles bar the way, though they could often take a clearer trail. They’d advise you to ever expect effort, exhaustion, and endless enduring. You should be honed by hardship, as if your form were locked within a stone and could only emerge harshly, weathered and chiseled and chipped away.

They say you will not be worthy unless you faced pain again, and again, and again. Ordeals, they say, are not only necessary to growing, but somehow deliberately placed in your way. You must prevail, but then, once more, you will nearly be broken. I am no stranger to what they say.

For almost before living memory, I once heard these same things, too. I took them to heart, as innocent, brave children do. I stood where you stand, before me the same twisted road obscured in unsettling umbral silent shade. How to survive, this I quickly had to learn. I was told that if I could not succeed, I should not return.

In many ways I became a shadow of what I could have been: I thought control was discipline, I mistook terror for triumph, and perhaps I unlearned such things too late. Thus a seed of grey as tendril wisps of fog encroached upon life’s wild green until it finally held sway.

I am the wanderer of mists and fog, not yet forgotten, always feared. I came to be called Grey One. Then hardly any one would meet my eyes. I am not heeded, only revered in hushed hurried tones. I returned and was remembered after death, but lived much of life alone.

Do not follow such an outdated path, I will tell you of the better way to go. Put down that pad and pen, for neither north, nor South, nor East, nor West will do. Sit down, young traveler. I will tell you what I know, for I can share a thing or two.

Listen, hush, be still, hold out your hands, close your eyes. I have seen men fight their dragons in bright red lines, who would not know how to shine even after they were through. Many a one has tried… oh yes, they have been tried and tried. Since when did trying lose its wonder and become a term of testing, a testament to a separateness that does not exist? Life becomes harder the more you resist. Often it is better to be, than do.

These are things you already know. But you stop trusting yourself to find the way, and instead wonder whether to believe the things they say. You, too, can fight your way through the dark, or steer by the light that burns inside. Every moment is a new chance to decide. And if ever, once again, you need to get clear: There is no where else to be, but here.

It Won’t Be Like This for Long

She walks along an uneven, eroding road, eyes narrowed, mind relatively absent, heart honeycombed with loss and the enduring of uncertainty, pain, and unshed tears. Here and there the trees sway to a music she can’t hear. The fog has come again. It comes when she has stored too many false hopes with the dreams she carries: wishes that reality were different than it seems, that what is happening would not be true.

She has tied up her hair and now it loosens as she walks down the path from which the sun is quickly evaporating. Clouds billow in but they are too far off to see, so she worries what shape they will take and whether she’ll still be on the road when they arrive. She will get off the road if the messages they bear prove to be too unfavorable.

The river to her left sings of joy too inharmonious with her thoughts to take seriously. Far ahead a bird cries too loudly. If she had worn shoes, they would have squelched in the mud on the road, but for now she is as silent as the wind.

Silent, for speech eludes her, for song fails her. The silence in herself echoes the silence outside herself, until she is swallowed by it, wrapped tightly in it, a swaddled child of the smothering silence. She feels cradled by the hands of voicelessness until it lulls her into unsettled inaction. Through that indecision she wanders, the hills on the road nothing to her, the touch of the breeze almost not registered. She bends once to pick up a stone, as alone as her heart, and wonders at finding her way through relationships that, like the cliffs far to the west, crumble so imperceptibly into sand until, abruptly, they avalanche into ruin, taking with them everyone all of a sudden.

Trying to reforge the hillsides of her landscape with scarce reinforcements may or may not have salvaged the whole of the puzzle in which was carved a place for each piece of the once vast vertical stretch of stone. The puzzle rearranges itself without her, appearing crooked and baring just beneath the surface the scars consequent of her leaving.

Solemn now, the clouds come, mirroring her grey blue eyes. She should not be here. Her designated normal place is not with the river and the song of the sun bird and the wisps of searching fog, and for a second, she almost forgets why she ever strayed beyond where she was expected to go. But then the why of it is all too easy to recall. Truth telling, especially softly weaving into the world the truth of her self, is a hard won right she should have known she did not possess. Precarious now, much of what her family has worked for, seeded so carefully, and absent is the peace between them, that had never really been there, but which they liked to say they shared.

It was her lack of silence which crippled her happiness and thwarted her dream to belong. This is what they told her, and sometimes, like now, she still feels this way. But she wonders in some small part of her being what belonging means, and whether she is walking away from never belonging just to walk toward it at last. Can a person belong where she cannot be herself?

It was striving to face the fear of breaking the fragile unspoken and specious borders around what no one wished to face that brought her here, alone and to this road, and far from what she knows. Now the silence beckons with its’ eerie siren’s call: “slip into the shelter of sonorous slumber, where are you going you young hapless wanderer?” But it is not the place of the silence to question her with who she thinks she is. The answer to this cannot be determined in silence, and this as much she knows. In anger now she shouts at the silence to leave her alone–the last of her supposed company who she’d rather be without.

She senses the twilight twinkling at her as she makes for the night a place to stop and reflect on the unknown of the future. To her, now, the morning later, time crawls as she still decides on nothing. She tells herself she will survive. She is thirsting and terribly hungry for wholesome life, one that matches her aspirations, her dreams, her way of being, the light pulsing through her reflecting shapes she was too often forbidden to share. She is tired of carefully stepping around what is, just to please other people and their strange desire to continue in their illusions, as if there is safety in what they want to believe when that was never so.

Onward, and many days to come, the journey might take her from the life she had which ceased making sense to the life she dares to achieve. What if she is not enough? What if she is not prepared? What if all along they were right and it was only she who lived by illusions as they suspected? Doubt makes the fog grow thicker, but what of it? The thing is done.

She is here, and every step she takes challenges the doubt boiling dangerously. It churns in her stomach as if she contained in herself a pit of earth out of which heavy emotions could spring, doubt, and molten fear, and she will not let it spill over the edges. It is enough, she knows, to scald what is left of a person’s worth.

. Instead she imagines the sea of life within her, and she the selkie, who has finally found her skin. She may not know how to swim yet, and there is always lack of confidence, but she cannot go back now.

Besides, she reasons, she is really not alone. The living stones and water and sky breathe with her, sing to her. Even the blazing fire of the sun walks the sky without like companionship, comforted only by it’s radiant light, no one to speak to, intrepidly traversing up and up the path that winds through the mountain of the stars, no knowledge in the moment that a resting place awaits at the other side. She smiles up at the sun then, willing that it recognize with her that they, sun and girl, have a similar journey ahead.

Perhaps their hearts long for the same freedom, perhaps they both rely on nothing but their light, glowing from within. Perhaps peace is around the bend somewhere up there past the day and it’s encroaching fog. She can’t see the peace or the sun through the fog, but she decides both are there. She walks on toward her dream, every moment carrying her closer and closer to a genuine home. She is that much closer to being sheltered in the truth of herself: the truth she listened to, that called her to change.

These realizations seep slowly into her frozen mind as she stares into the pool in the river, re-braids her hair, crinkles the corners of her eyes, wipes mist from her forehead with a tiny hand, then takes stalk of her few belongings. There is not much, but she has lived this long on her own. Quickly, she grasps the leafy hand of a nearby tree, a standing person, and brushes the dirt from her clothes. She is off again, hope rekindled like tiny suns in her ever watchful eyes.

***

Things change despite us and our hopes. Things fall away, like the cliffs and the tide, and the song of the sun bird, and the cycles of twilight and dawn. Things you thought you were, no longer make sense. Things you thought you belong to fade or falter, or break apart in a vehement frenzy that surprises all. Things you thought would serve you you no longer need. Things you know now you need must be sought elsewhere. It won’t be like this for long. If you hold on, more of the pieces will fall into place, change can be sharp and demanding but in the place of all that wanting to be true is the real you, the one who emerges carved through the difficult moments you face. Let yourself shine in all those myriad of shapes you never gave yourself permission to share. And though sometimes you can’t see through the fog, know you still are not alone. All of us, myself and the others, we are here.

The Lesson At Winter Solstice _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 11

December 21, 2013

Today is my seed group’s winter solstice gathering. It is our first semi-private ritual since the group formed, and we’ve put quite a bit of effort into making it as meaningful and smoothly running as possible. My friends pick Allegro and I up in a clunky, old, yet functional pickup truck. While Ashley drives, Tara gets into the truck bed with Allegro on her lap and we set off to make the forty-five minute trip from Berkeley to Walnut Creek. Fortunately the truck is equipped with a camper shell. I would otherwise have never let Allegro ride in the back of it on the freeway.

Minus some minor hang-ups, the ritual is a big success. In itself it only amounts to half an hour of the gathering. The rest of the time is spent chatting, eating great food, drinking mulled wine, and catching up with friends and family.

Now a bit tipsy on both red and mulled wine, I find myself in the kitchen of the clubhouse we’ve rented for the event which is owned by the apartment complex of one of our members, Holly. Holly has had more whine than I have though this is hardly the main reason that, when I find her, she is more in the otherworld than this one.

“Can I talk to you a minute?” I ask Holly, who puts a warm cup of mulled wine into my empty hands. This is the first year I’ve been introduced to the stuff, and boy have I been missing out!

“I’m not all here,” she says, “I’m trying to make more whine and am running around a bit. But I have a minute.”

So, I lay out the problem for her as quickly as possible. It has now been a solid month since the fianna started coming through my apartment on the way to making other commitments elsewhere. I am more than exhausted. I lean against the wall heavily, visibly spent, explaining to her that despite the fact that none of them have individually given me any trouble, I’m an introvert who recharges energy by having alone time, and have had next to little of it lately. I think there are definitely over a hundred of them, and that’s an insane number of people to share a small 720 square foot apartment with.

This would be difficult to deal with in and of itself, but things have gotten worse. I am, as it turns out, amateur at best and dangerously ignorant at worst when it comes to creating portals to the otherworld in my living room. Recently, I’ve come home to find two modern teenagers lackadaisically lounging on my island kitchen counter swinging their feet and rolling their eyes at me when I ask them to get down. I suggest to the couple that perhaps they have died. Do they know where they are? With surprised quizzical looks, they disappear. This leaves me sad and worried. If teenage newly-deads can appear in my apartment, perhaps anything and anyone can. What would prevent a nasty otherworlder, human or creature, even elemental, from entering my space?

“So,” I say to Holly, “It seems that now, despite my intentions, anyone can get through. I’ve been trying not to conclude I ought to change my mind on offering my hospitality, but now I might not have a choice. The thing is, I haven’t known my otherworld friends that long and something like this hasn’t happened before. What if Oisín and Caoilte don’t understand? I don’t want to make them angry or let them down. What should I do? I really did mean it when I said they could call my place their own. I wanted to give that to them. But it is now costing me too much of myself and is becoming potentially dangerous. It’s never wise to indiscriminately let any otherworld being into your home, even if this wasn’t my intention.”

Holly thinks this over for a while. Finally she advises me that it sounds like, for my safety, I need to get rid of the entrances I’ve made into the otherworld. She assures me that the four people, including Caoilte and Oisín who helped me heal, are already connected to me and closing the portals won’t shut them out of my space. I’m relieved to know that. She says that to her mind they ought to understand why this situation is no longer working for me. Uneasily, I agree with her that tonight when I get home, I need to get the word out that I can’t be offering my place for everyone anymore.

I get home at 1:30 in the morning, but I am undeterred from my mission to do what I say I would. I am now extremely exhausted, and even more tipsy. I open Microsoft Word, and write a letter to Oisín and Caoilte, explaining the situation and how I need to do what is best for me, and that I apologize but I simply misjudged my capacity to host so many people, as well as failed to accurately assess my ability to selectively create portals into the otherworld. I end by entreating them to understand, still not sure whether they will, and not sure I want to know what mood they will get into if they do not.

I then close the portals immediately without waiting for approval. It would frankly be foolish to wait for a response from my otherworld friends. After all, the longer I wait, the longer I leave open the possibility that something unpleasant can come through to bother me. For all I know, some nasty thing has already done this. More than that, however, I don’t do approval. I’m the kind of person who begins eating a cookie and then asks if it’s all right to eat it—if I already know the person whose cookie I am surreptitiously taking, of course. I have walked across a road I know is closed just to tell a bewildered police officer that I do not follow the rules: well I actually had a line prepared about not seeing the “closed” sign, but I’m an embarrassingly terrible liar. Of course I am considerate of others and a happy follower of social norms, usually, but I’d rather make my own decisions and own their consequences than constantly look outside of myself for direction.

Once the portal is closed, I remember the letter on my screen. In a moment of pure inebriated clarity, I hit the save and send button in Word, then puzzle for a minute or so over why I can’t remember Caoilte’s or Oisín’s email address. I decide afterward that perhaps I should only write my otherworld friends while sober. But I do smile at the fact that I’ve completely forgotten their disembodied status for a moment and simply thought of them as people, period. And most people I know have email. I decide that I will simply leave the letter on screen and delete it in the morning. This, I think to myself, is like writing something on a piece of paper and then burning it, without the complications of writing on paper or the use of fire, both of which I gladly forgo most of the time.

After this, I can barely move and am falling asleep sitting up, which I am excellently good at. So I get myself to bed. When I wake up in the morning, I delete the letter on my screen, and hope for the best.

The Challenge to Value Myself Over What Others Might Think of Me

I was inspired to share this experience after reading many heartfelt, courageously written recent posts from my blog friend, Alienora.
I spend a lot of my spiritual life in challenges, most of which I haven’t shared. But in different ways I think we all have to deal with this one, sooner or later. I’m still in the middle of it!

September 3, 2014
To Those in the Otherworld Who Walk Their Journey with Me:

It is Wednesday morning, and I am feeling strangely cut off, like somehow I dropped the thread I was winding through the maze of my journey, and cannot find it again. I am exhausted. My bones ache, as if I have gone a long, long way. I worry I am falling back asleep, and then I might fail or be forgotten. I do not know the word I need to live by. I only know the word yes, not yes to doing more and more, not yes to pleasing people. It is yes, I am.

Lately growth for me has not come with trying, working hard, demanding more from myself, pushing limits, proving I can do what I originally took to not be possible. I have, in the course of the challenges I meet, done every one of these things. But then I can’t do more or I fall apart, or I am frozen in fear, or I just can’t keep going: and then I grow.

I grow because I open and unfold across the barriers I built to continue my false sense of security. I grow because I can no longer maintain the dam holding back emotions, they spill over the sides of the space within which I wish they had stayed. . I give up the need to be in control. I let go. I let myself be seen. And I let change take me by the hand, as if I am a weary child, whispering hush through the dark shadowy bits of mind I might have otherwise disowned. I dissolve into endless belonging beneath coming and going. Suddenly I am not lost but at the center of the labyrinth of living. I grow.

This particular morning, I am trying to rid myself of the belief that what others think of me is often more important than being true to myself. I am terrified to say the wrong thing, to confront anyone and create conflict, but definitely could wait a bit longer before accepting this. I think of ways to hold myself apart from past and potential criticism so I won’t get hurt. I think of the defenses I’ll need to build so I won’t feel small when people try to minimize my ideas or cut me down. I wonder whether I can get away with using indifference as a shield against taking what people say personally, at least occasionally.

And then I realize, unfortunately with an even greater sense of alarm and terror, that if I did this there would be no way for you and I to reach each other. It would plunge me into the invisibility that is my greatest nightmare. The possibility is inconceivable to me, like self-imposed exile. It is a choice I will never make again.

Once, I was so hurt that I cut myself off from any world, and lost sight of my own identity. It was the year I started grad school and my parents were separating. I almost never found my way back home. I know what it is like to allow the desertification of the forest of soul. I hid myself even from me, thinking this was a form of self protection. I almost died inside before I admitted how my refusal to live consciously was only a brutal form of self-betrayal.

Earlier this year, life again began to draw me toward that edge over which we fly or fall. There, unconsciousness called alluringly, louder than the din of my over occupied, overwhelmed mind and raging emotions that were threatening to engulf me and pull me in. I lost myself in sleep, dreaming for hours, unwilling to take the covers away from my face or get out of bed. But that was not the end of it, because the stillness I knew to always be with me, in which I learned my worth, in which I came home to myself, called my name. I heard your voices in the silent cry, I remembered looking into your eyes, and found I was enough.

I came too in the midst of a crowd. You all stood with grave, stern faces, devastated by what I had almost done. And you said, “There is nothing we would have been able to do had you chosen not to return.” That was when I promised you, and perhaps more importantly myself, that it would not happen again. And it has not. It cannot.

Etched into my mind is the picture of the six or so of you I could see, incredible sadness searing lines across your faces. And I understood that had I chosen once again to simply go through the motions, we would search for each other and see nothing, you would call my name and I wouldn’t hear you: all because I would have imposed separation on myself. And so once again my world turns upside down, leaving me dizzy and disoriented with the effort of ridding myself of false beliefs, determined to stay present.

Shaking, I tear down the defenses, I break the facade of indifference, relieved that now, there is nothing between us. But there is also nothing between myself and uncertainty, and what others think of me is quite beyond my control. An icy cold runs through me. I start to cross my arms in front of me to ward off the cold, but remember in time how it will help me instead to stand in the way that reflects how I wish to be in the world. I feel like standing is an impossibility, but somehow it continues. Still, I reach out. This is the only way I know to be fully alive and live with the authenticity that comes from not letting the opinions and talk of others destroy my sense of worth and self compassion. And we all know I could use a bit more of both when it comes to this world, when, inevitably, someone won’t like what I do or say, and might even reject me.

being able to do this in my own world is the whole point. I try hard not to think about that now, though, because when I do the world spins around me in 360 degrees, and I’m reaching out again, this time literally for balance.

I can’t recall a time when reaching out was harder. Ironically, as I stumble through and decide I am probably failing, I worry about what you are thinking of me. Of course, this only convinces me that yes, most likely I really am failing. Moving beyond concerns of judgment—yours and mine–and that I’ll be found seriously wanting, is like walking through a hurricane. When I try and move through physical space, the room spins around again dangerously. I bump into a few walls. But Silently, spent of doing, I reach out. And for a moment I am there, knowing how it feels to love myself fiercely, no matter what this world’s reaction may be.

It’s only one short moment. For today it’s enough. I decide that, tomorrow, rather than “try,” I will instead just be. I will accept where I am even if I wish I had learned more quickly, and surrender to silence. I’ll open the door that habit and fear have implored me to leave alone, to find my way through a room littered with the tears and isolation, invisibility and insensitivity that haunted my childhood.

Beneath the insecurity I face, I know that, when you see me, your eyes will be kind. You have been here before. If I fall, you will, gratefully, say nothing in the moment, just help me start again. There are many things I know I’d rather not confront, but they are the guardians to the gates, the keepers of the keys I need, in order to be free to say what I long to say, to be truly who I am. And that is what this is all about. It is all I’ve ever needed to be. I start again.

Waking From The Dream

An old, dream-man sits on a gnarled tree stump,
Crumbling and full of bugs.
Death hovers red and shimmering at the rim,
For him, on the brink of living.

The hands of the dream-man lie folded across his chest,
Chiseled and raw like driftwood.
What meanings do the carved hands have,
Now that others occupy the dwelling they protected?

I stamp my feet and shout at him,
Wildly I gesture, get up, I cry.
The dream-man snores on, oblivious to my hollering,
And to the mosquitoes that land on him, eating him alive.

This affront to age, the young standing awake, the old decaying in sleep,
I wonder how long I must keep screaming
Before I not only hear my words,
But listen to them, recognize the voice that commands them as mine.

What happened to Afagddu,
After receiving neither beauty nor wisdom?
Did he slump against a cobwebbed stump,
Indifferent to the slashing wind, the crawling things?

Did he then marvel at his skin,
Suddenly seeing the darkness for the cocoon it was,
And how it was breaking open, crumbling away,
And how the unraveled and undone, give way to wings unfolding,

For the soul-creature, captured and changing within
To fly free of his aching, twisted, slumbering body?
Lifted by that ancient longing,
A homecoming which yet had only come to him in dreams.

I live, one breathless briefest moment,
Sandwiched between the book ends of becoming and leaving,
Between those vast emptinesses haunting me with the mystery of my origin,
The destination shrouded in mist, my eternal address of nowhere.

The dream-man fades into the past,
And I have no more patience for sleep.
, there is no place in which to house,
Much less contain the kinetics of change.

That which once calmed me,
Only leaves me wary and watchful,
And each day, burning within the fierce fire, carving
The path of the present, I rise.

There is no amount of warning
That could stir whoever refuses to wake up,
I am rooted in the earth,
Leaping into the light streaming morning.

Open your eyes, we are alive.
Open your eyes.
We are
Alive.

The Old Woman _ Spring 2013

She took my hands between her own
Herself of the mists and shadows,
I might never have noticed her

But the earnestness in those sea eyes,
They held mine–
I could not look away.

I will see you again, barely whispered within me–
And yes, I recognized her, Old and weathered,
A tree that has seen much,
Survived great things.

She was not a child, barely five feet tall.
Yes, I knew her—
Before I was born here again, I knew her.

The predawn finds me
Within the restless wakefulness of a night watcher
startled to have entered a vigil
I am unaware of ever keeping.

I compel myself to silence,
An endless stream of faces, lines etched in skin–
Because of how many losses do I exist?

The question’s afraid to be asked.
Awe and terror of it leaves me instinctively shrinking,
And I curl up under the covers, sobbing like a child against
The truth of things, it shatters into broken glass,

Shards of myself piercing through the hard outer shell
Piece by piece, I am wounded for it:
For gathering what lies broken and undone,
Deserves to come back whole.

This grief for what I never knew I lost:
How many memories will pull me out of sleep,
Drag me into themselves
As if I have become a prisoner of mirrors?

I took her hands in mine,
She is my great grandmother, my daughter,
And so I am haunted by what is.

Gone, all of them gone now,
But not from the marrow of my dreams
That ebb and flow, of places I’ve never seen,
Tides I’ve never known.

I’ll see you again, she said,
I uncoil my fragile body, exhausted with trembling,
Peal the blanket away from my eyes
And I am not alone.

Who are you?
Lingering where questions lie unanswered,
Breathing in silence, together.

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?”