Hair can make or break a person, but only if you’re breakable in the first place

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I was 16 years old and doing my obligatory time working at a popular fast food restaurant in the small town where I grew up.  The manager had just sent me to the basement for some supplies and as I came back upstairs and around a corner, the popular girl (let’s call her Jen here) barreled into me – her eyes wide, her hands over her mouth in the largest expression I had ever seen on her.  In fact, I couldn’t quite interpret it.  Granted I wasn’t very good at such things back then, but she was blubbering on so fast I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and it’s not like I could stand there and chat – I had supplies to deliver!

“Jen!  Jen, stop!  What’s going on?”  I tried to get her to tell me quickly because it honestly seemed like an emergency.  “Oh my god!  This guy!  He…!”  She couldn’t get a word out and my manager called for me to bring the supplies and I knew I had to hurry, so I tried again…“Jen – I have to take these up, so if you’re going to say something, say it now.”  I tried to look sternly in her eyes, but I doubt I was any good at it.  At age 16 I was pretty shy.

 She looked at me, surprised, (I was too – I’d never even tried to look stern unless I was babysitting my brothers before).  She was still blubbering incoherently though, so I began to leave.  Finally, as I was turning to go she put her hand on my shoulder and spoke, “There’s a guy up there!  He’s…he’s like the weirdest guy I’ve ever seen!  His – his hair!!”

 Seriously?  She’d left her station and acted like the place was getting raided because someone was different?  I was very grateful I had to leave now.  So I turned and left and gave my manager the supplies and went up front to my register and there he was – the “weirdest guy ever”.  He was my boyfriend.

Yep – the guy that had Jen all in a flutter was my boyfriend of a few months now, and he had come in with his hair in a spiked mohawk.  His ears had already been pierced, so now people could really see the jewelry.  I smiled hugely.  He was my first love and so I still smile when I think of him, I always will.  I smiled 1st and foremost because he was there and I loved him being near.  I smiled 2nd because I loved looking at him (he was very handsome) and 3rd because when he was near wonderful things always happened –  he was a very thought provoking young man.  Now I had a 4th reason to smile – that mohawk. I adored him for always being unapologetically him and I thought it was sweet that he came and showed it to me right away. 

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Hair is just hair, folks – and this kid is adorable.

At the time, I was growing up in a strict, religious home that was far too confining for who I was inside.  I yearned to fly free but cried at night before I met him, thinking it was impossible.  He came and showed me it was not impossible.  I could do anything I wanted to do.  I was worth it!  Now here he stood in front of me with that magnificent hair – that crown of rebellion – and my spirit soared a little higher.

We spoke and then he had to leave.  Jen rushed at me the moment he did.  “You talked to him!” 

“He’s my boyfriend,” I said.

She didn’t seem to hear me – I often laugh at people who don’t hear responses simply because it wasn’t what they expected you to say.  I seldom stick to their ‘script’.

“I can’t believe you talked to him!  What did he say?” she asked me.

*sigh*  So many thoughts inside my head…

That’s when it all clicked for me.  All that mattered to her was his hair.  His hair was different and thus he was different.  He had come in dozens of times before and she had never noticed him.  In fact, before his ear piercings, she had even flirted with him.  Now she remembered none of that.  All she knew was that he was strange.

 “I told you, he’s my boyfriend.” I reminded her. 

…stunned silence for a while.  Well at least this time she heard me. More words were exchanged, but nothing important.  She was shocked, because I was one type and he was another and that was that.  The funny thing is that without her reaction before I went up front, I would’ve gone up and seen just another hairstyle on the man I loved – nothing more.  Instead his hair had given me street cred in her eyes and to me – that was the strange part of the day.

Through her eyes I learned a valuable lesson.  I learned all about ego and falseness and trueness of self and what people mean when they say “weird” or “strange”.  Apparently it can mean being yourself, telling the truth, and not reading from the ‘script’.

 To put it simply, I learned that hair can make or break a person…but only if you’re a breakable person in the first place.

 Oh and my hair?  My hair is now a magnificent purple.  I’m so well known for it that it’s even listed that way on a government ID card.

 

So be yourself – whether it’s through your hair, your clothes, your speech or your toenails.  Personally, I like to stand out a little bit.  It helps me weed out those people who, like Jen, think such things are ‘strange’.  It helps me find people who know how to look at the inner self instead.

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…and since you’ve stuck with me this far, here’s a small collection of other mohawks that made me smile:

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I love the braided look, and the way she kept her hair long here.

 

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Okay, so I think he’s pretty hot, albeit young.

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LOVE this idea!

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He’s mohawked and he’s smart…yep – this guy works for NASA. Little wonder he’s taken, right?

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In one word:
STRENGTH.

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I thought about going red for awhile…

Homeless but Happy

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As I hurried into the grocery store last night I was tired and in pain.  One of my ears had filled up with fluid and I just needed to pick up some things to help it.  As I tried to hobble inside, using my cane instead of my wheelchair (unable to put it together in this state), I saw him – the homeless man with the dog I had helped last winter.  That time it had been easy – I had been able to use food stamps to help, but it had still felt good to give them so much.  Today as I hurried and hobbled inside I remembered that I’d have to put my purchases on a credit card.  I had no more food stamps and nothing left in my bank account.  I sighed – must things always be so hard?

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 As I picked up my items, I couldn’t stop thinking of him.  We just got over a really bad storm here – there had been a few inches of ice on top of 6-8 inches of snow.  It had snowed more or less nonstop for 4 days and another storm was on the way.  Now was not a time to be stingy or overly cautious.  I could pay off my credit card easier than he could survive all this.  I picked up some peanut butter, a big loaf of bread, and a bag of dog food; and made sure to get it in a plastic bag for him.

 

 Then we talked and my life was changed.

 

 Mind you – I wouldn’t – I couldn’t have this blog if I weren’t already the introspective type.  I study the world around me and I’m grateful for what I have in the face of loss.  When the world takes a dream away – I dream again. That’s the wonderful thing about dreams – they’re infinite! 

 Even as a toddler I was told I was inspirational to others because of my ability to be happy and to share this happiness with others, and it’s continued all my life.  Yet suddenly I stood before a Master in this field.  I had egotistically thought I was helping him by bringing him these few bits of food, but I was so very wrong.  I was fortunate enough to be allowed to speak to him, and he would’ve talked regardless of my offerings.

 HE WAS HAPPY.

 HE FELT LUCKY IN LIFE!

 His name is Glen and his dog is named Patience.  As we talked I found out that he had been a chef until he got cancer of the brain.   He was on disability, but as I knew from unfortunate experience with a family member, the meds are VERY expensive.  Most cancer meds don’t have generics, and many aren’t even covered by disability.  So after he buys all his meds he has about $55.00 left over for the month.

 I was stunned.  I was feeling so sorry for myself because I was out of food stamps and worried.  I was in pain because of my ear – which was due to a procedure that Medicare wouldn’t cover that will (hopefully!) help my increasing migraines.  I’ve seen countless doctors about problems in my head and even gotten a picture of this strange thing in an MRI but the neurologists still do nothing, so I was taking things into my own hands.  My own uncle had had cancer of the brain.  If anyone could relate – it was me.

 I had been feeling sorry for myself and had just bought all I needed and was on my way to a warm home.  This man felt lucky to be alive and his fingers and face showed signs of frostbite, he was too thin, he was homeless and had cancer of the brain.

 Tonight I’m going to go looking for him.  I crochet when I watch tv and have made a lot of hats and scarves – hopefully I’ll find him and let him pick out everything he wants.  It seems a simple trade since he has what I most want and so freely gives it – that optimism and hope about life.  One thing’s for sure – the next time I’m feeling down on life – I’ll go looking for him and talk with him. 

 Though I cannot help but cry at the thought of such a man living on the streets, and all because of the greed of our pharmaceutical system.  I wish I could do more and hope with all my heart that one of my readers can.  If not, at the very least, his story will be told and perhaps as I talk to him more – we’ll all learn more from him in future posts.  If you do nothing else this day – in this moment – please be grateful.

 Be grateful you can read this. 

Be grateful if you are warm. 

Be grateful if you know you will eat when you are hungry. 

Just be grateful because it’s a better way to be.

 

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Lessons Found in the Rainbow – a Living World of Color

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The First Rainbow?

When I was a very young child I was taught the story of “Noah and the Ark” in which God gives the world a rainbow as a symbol of his promise to never again devastate the earth in such a way.  Given that Noah had just released birds, Disney had released an animated film of Cinderella with birds, and my girlish imagination – I always imagined that first rainbow with a hair bow tied on top.  It was very pretty.

 ImageMy First Song

It wasn’t too many years later that I discovered the piano and began “composing”, if you can call it that.  Tinkering is more like it.  My first song was called, “I Love you Rainbow” and said those 4 words quite a lot.  Here’s some of the lyrics:

“Rainbow!  I love you rainbow.  Rainbow – I love you today.  Strips of colorful ribbon that sunbeams slide down to come and play!  When I woke early this morning, I didn’t think it would be a good day today, but then I say you rainbow with sunbeams sliding down to come and play; and I knew that it would be a good day today.  Rainbow!  I love you rainbow.  Rainbow – I love you today.  Strips of colorful ribbon that sunbeams slide down to come and play!”  © 2002

 Times Have ChangedImage

Many years later I attended an event with two lesbian friends who were not “out” officially yet.  A few of us knew, but that was enough for the time being.  Also at the event was a woman who gave them rainbow bookmarks.  Nervously they asked me if the woman knew their secret and I had to laugh.  No, I told them, sometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow – she just can’t settle on any one favorite color, so tends to make things in rainbows.  “Are you sure?” They asked me, finding it hard to believe; but soon saw the truth of it in her actions.  She had no clue it was a symbol of anything other than a love of color.

 Confusion in Commercialization

So there I am one day at a thrift store – and I hear an argument between a parent and child.  It seems the child wanted to wear a shirt with a rainbow on it and the mom was awkwardly saying no.  It was clear to all the adults that her reason was an anti-gay attitude, but she didn’t want to say so.  It was also clear that the child just saw it as a rainbow.  The woman just kept looking around for support, hoping someone would rescue her, but no one did.  I wanted to rescue the child, but I know all too well that you can’t infringe on the parental rights, so I chose a different tactic.  I explained my strategy quickly to my boyfriend, maneuvered to a nearby aisle, began “searching” for an item as we continued our discussion.  It was about stickers on a card I had sent to someone.  In this make believe instance (of course the mom never heard the part of it being make-believe), this person had gotten upset at me for putting rainbow stickers on their child’s birthday card and it was a shame, because sometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow…especially to a child. I never saw her face since I’m in a wheelchair and thus hidden by the racks.  (That’s part of why I can do such things – it makes it less confrontational), but I do hope it helped.

 Why the Rainbow?

What is it about these bands of color that get us so determined to find meaning?  Is it their transience…their lack of predictability…their beauty?  It’s likely a combination of all three and more, perhaps also a lack of understanding of what they really are.  No matter what causes it though – no one can deny that they do present excellent analogies to societal learning.

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The Technical Stuff – Old Guys

The rainbow actually consists of two rainbows, the primary and the secondary. Between the bows, the sky is darker than otherwise. This area is called Alexander’s dark band after Alexander of Aphrodisias (A.D. 200), who was the first to describe the dark area.   (http://www.datalyse.dk/Rainbow/history.htm)

 

The Technical Stuff – What it is

A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon…It takes the form of a multicolored arc. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun.  All rainbows are full circles; however, the average observer only sees approximately the upper half of the arc…In a double rainbow, a second arc is seen outside the primary arc, and has the order of its colors reversed, red facing toward the other one, in both rainbows. This second rainbow is caused by light reflecting twice inside water droplets.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow)

 Moving On

Now that we’re on the same page and we understand what a Rainbow really is (were any of you doubting?) I want you to think about that for a moment.  Here’s this band of light that’s constantly symbolically connecting Heaven and Earth and it turns out there’s a dark band in the middle!  Aside from the obvious thought of Yin/Yang – that’s just freaking cool.  Now consider that ever rainbow you’ve ever seen was a full circle.  All that beauty was just a portion of what was really there…and what you saw was, itself, illusion.  Yeah, that’s kinda trippy. 

 

ImageThe Rainbow Bridge

Down below you’ll see the Norse version (Bifröst) but I’m talking the one for our pets here.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look at this – it’s often given to those who have lost a family member of the animal kind.

 “Just this side of heaven is a place called the Rainbow Bridge.  When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to the Rainbow Bridge.  There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.  There is plenty of food, water, and sunshine and our friends comfortable.

 All the animals who have been ill are restored to health and vigor.  Those who were hurt are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of times gone by.  The animals are happy except for one thing; they miss someone that had to be left behind. 

 They all run and play together, but the day finally comes when one of them suddenly stops and looks into the distance.  Their bright eyes are intent, the eager body quivers.  Suddenly it begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, legs carrying it faster and faster.

 You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.  The happy kisses rain upon your face, your hands once again caress the beloved head and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your animal friend, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge Together.”  (~Annon)

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Mythologically Speaking

Most people know that if you find the end of a Rainbow, you’ll find a Leprechaun’s Pot O’ Gold.  I remember driving towards many rainbows on road trips as a child and fantasizing about that.  Then I learned that the rainbow only exists in your eyes – not in a particular place, and I imagined countless people throughout the ages running off into odd directions waving their hands about (not sure why they had to do that, but in my daydream they always did), trying to get that gold.

 So the gold exists at the end of something that’s only found in our own eyes.  Another way of saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder perhaps?  Or a fool’s errand?  I wonder how many times people go off in search of something that really isn’t there…but only exists in their own vision.

Image Here’s some other Rainbow Myths:

  1. Bifröst (pronounced BIF-roast), was the burning Rainbow Bridge in Norse legend that connects Asgard (realm of the Gods) to Midgard (our world). 
  2.  In Greek stories, Iris was a Goddess first of the Rainbow and later who traveled the rainbow.  She was a messenger and had numerous other small, but significant duties.
  3.  For the Australian Aborigines, all rainbows are actually gigantic snakes and the Rainbow Serpent is the creator of the world and of all beings.  During the dry season it retreats to deep waterholes.  While it can give fertility by creating rain, it can also destroy with disease and other pains.  It’s interesting to note that the Rainbow Serpent has no gender.
  4.  Indra, the Hindu god of war and thunder, uses the rainbow to shoot arrow of lightning – killing an ancient demon.
  5.  In Navajo tradition a pair of rainbows led to the creation of their people.
  6.  In China, two lovers can only be alone when the rainbow is present.  One of them is the red color and one is the blue.
  7.  In Buddhism we find the concept of the “Rainbow Body”, which is essentially the highest level you can attain in your physical body just before reaching Nirvana.
  8.  In Japan, Burma, Bulgaria, the Amazon cultures, Inca, Peru, Slavs, Honduras and Nicaragua the rainbow was seen as either bad luck or dangerous.
  9.  In Hawai’i, despite the frequent misunderstanding of their sports name, “The Rainbow Warriors” we find the mythological Rainbow Women and Rainbow Men or Rainbow Warriors.  These were wise ones who understood the connection to the land and respected it.  The Rainbow Women were fertile and the Rainbow Warriors would die, if necessary, to keep their land in balance.  The petroglyph is often interpreted as “Keeper of the Aina” (“Keeper of the land and its people”).  In fact, Hawai’i has a lot of depictions of the rainbow, used as a means of travel for deities and for the deceased, it’s used as a footstool to another special one and the list goes on and on.
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Yes, these are real trees. They’re called Rainbow Eucalyptus and each one is different.

 What is it about Color?

The list goes on and on for other cultures, too.  In the midst of it all I look around me and see a world that still divides itself into colors it thinks are “races” (Scientifically speaking there is only one human race.)  There are “Blacks” and “Whites” and in my naiveté I thought that was all, but to my horror I found we’ve divided ourselves into “Reds” and “Yellows” and “Browns”, too.  How awful!  To think that many people out there still think that we need purity, a separation of colors…I think it’s shameful.

 My Reply

Okay, so some may use my own analogy against me and say, “what happens if you muddle up all those colors though – mix them all up?  You’d just get an ugly brown.  The rainbow itself is separated.”  Here is my reply:

1st – we’re talking people, and brown is not a bad thing – one look at the tanning industry and you know that!

2nd – no you wouldn’t, because light itself is already muddled up – it already HAS all those colors inside it.  When that light hits a prism (like water) it separates – just like people have always done and will always do – we just don’t separate into something as superficial as skin tone groups.  We separate into groups like: writers, gamers, sports fans, and artists. 

 It reminds me of a poem I saw once:

We’re a rainbow made of children; we’re an army singing songs, there’s no weapon that can stop us, rainbow love is just too strong.  I was taught that black was evil.  I was taught that white was good, but when you’re in a rainbow every color is understood.  (©  Billy Jack 1974)

 Personally though, I grew up watching Sesame Street.  So I don’t care about black or white – you can be orange or purple, huge and feathered, or slow with a big trunk – maybe you have a fetish for being tickled or live on the street in a trash can – frankly I don’t care!  I just want to get to know you for who you are.  Besides, my favorite characters were the aliens.

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Coloring in Pieces of Myself

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It was 1993 and I was sitting in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, on the wheel well, enjoying the cool night air of the hot Arizona summer.  A friend of a friend walked out in front of our oncoming truck, the driver slammed on his brakes and I went flying…and hit the back of the cab squarely on my left temple.  (No one else got hurt.)

Thus began my Great Adventure with a brain injury.  Believe it or not, there are many upsides.  For instance – you know those fun optical illusions that get emailed around?  Well pre-TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) they fooled me just like everyone else.  Then, for the next 7 years or so I saw right through them (it was actually rather boring).  Then for a year or two I saw a double image of the illusion and the reality…and now I’m back to being fooled.  For someone like myself who’s always been fascinated by the mind – that’s utterly awesome! 

That’s not to say I’m completely healed, or that it was all roses.  In fact my situation was such that I had no doctors, friends or family to help me through the process for the first 5 years, and in the beginning it was pretty bad.  There were times I didn’t know my name, how to read, how to count, where I was, how to walk, etc.   I was even being taken advantage of sexually – and I may never know how often that happened.  It’s interesting though, because I didn’t know how bad off I had it.  The very damage I needed to heal was my saving grace in many ways.  Perhaps having the opportunity to re-write your brain isn’t such a bad thing, either.

But this isn’t about how bad it was – that’s just the background noise.  This is about a hidden gem inside all of us that somehow I tapped into because my mind had nothing left it could do.

 One day I bought one of those posters that you color in yourself.  It was a beautiful Celtic cross done in Celtic knots.  You can see it finished here:

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Granted, the point of this picture was my new hat – but the poster is still there 🙂

Imagine counting without the logical part of your brain working.  As I worked on the ribbon-like knots that lead into the central cross, I had to know how many ribbons there were, so I knew how many colors to pick out.  That process alone took me about 2 weeks – just the counting.  I would begin tracing a line…my mind would go dead for a moment…I’d forget where I was or what I was doing…look around for a moment…and by the time I remembered, I had lost my place.  2 weeks to count and I learned that there were 2 ribbons in those knots.  Then another 5 days to remember what the number “5” meant on my scratch pad.  Then I could begin coloring (yeah, it actually worked out like that – 2 weeks for 2 colors and 5 days to remember 5.  Ironic, huh?).  Now you start to get an idea of how it went.  I carefully, carefully colored it step by step; though most steps involved a lot more counting than just 2 ribbons.  The further I got the more complex it got because I didn’t want to put too much of one color near another.  The whole process took me 10 months.

I took 2 months off and then did another (a southern belle in a garden) which also took me 10 months, but the magic had already happened.  I could talk now, though it was different from before the accident.  I had learned how to walk near walls in case of dizzy spells.  A whole new world was opening to me and my mind was growing at an incredible pace.  I had learned to adapt to my new world.  I even got engaged!

I didn’t know what I was doing – I was far too damaged to know.  Later, however, I would be able to piece together that I very likely had Asperger’s before that accident – extreme left-brain activity.  The accident damaged my left brain, and my instincts began me on an artistic journey with that poster.  That very well could have accelerated my healing as my brain worked to re-direct it’s pathways through my right-brain, the artistic side. 

 I attribute a lot to that poster.  I didn’t just learn to count and remember a number for 5 minutes; I learned how to use my new brain.  My entire world had changed and coloring that poster was like coloring in the pieces of me.  By the time it was done – I was able to take charge of my life again and make good decisions and judgments.  As time went on I discovered something more – socializing.  Wow!  What a world!  Of course memorizing text books was a thing of the past, as were all my left-brained activities, but hey look – people!

It seems enough time has finally passed that my left brain is healing and my mind is switching back to those old, familiar patterns.  Can I get the best of both worlds – able to retrieve my mental abilities and still socialize?  Only time will tell, but one thing I’ve learned is that inside of us all there is a healer.  We make up excuses, we set it aside and say why it can’t be so, we put things off because we are too busy…but who could possibly know you better than you?

My instincts lead me to that poster all those years ago and I’m following them now.  Instincts don’t have to make sense to the person using them – they just have to be listened to.  So go ahead and try it – where will your instinct take you?

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Over the years I’ve hung it tall or wide and you can see it’s even popular with the furry creatures that share my abode. It’s a good reminder to me to always listen, to both of them perhaps. 🙂

Happiness is a Hike, Not a Free Ride.

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All of my life I’ve cheered people up with my smile and optimistic attitude.  Over and over again many people have mistaken it for an easy life and some have even ventured to say so.  “You’re so lucky,” they say in response to my happiness.  I confess that I didn’t understand what they were saying.  What did luck have to do with happiness?  Why was I lucky?  When I looked back on my life, I certainly didn’t see any luck.

In fact I was one of the first children in California to be diagnosed with an adult-level anxiety condition due to early onset PTSD, though that diagnosis did me little good at that time.  I’ve been through traumas that most don’t even consider possibilities, along with all the ones they do – and I had hit all that before the age of 8, though it didn’t stop until I reached my thirties.

So why was I lucky?  Finally I cornered someone and got them to explain it all to me.  I was lucky, apparently, because I was happy.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear:

Luck has nothing to do with who is happy!

I was (and am) happy because I work at it – very hard – every day.  It’s like a hike in the forest, not a free ride.  You have to plan and prepare and know what you’re doing to some extent; but to a certain degree – we all know how to put one foot in front of the other.  It helps to have friends with you, but you can do it alone if you must.  Sometimes, despite the best planning, the best of friends and the best paths – you will fall.  It’s okay, that’s just what happens sometimes.  Rest up, heal up, and resume walking when you can.  There’s no reason to belittle yourself for not seeing every little tripping hazard that comes your way.

Life is filled with difficulties and some of us find hiking our paths more natural than others do.  Personally, I have a very low emotional pain threshold.  Physical pain I can handle, but emotional pain?  Forget it!  That simple “weakness” has saved me over and over and taught me some marvelous life skills.  Since I can’t handle emotional pain, I’ve found ways to get out of it remarkably fast.

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Here are some tricks that I personally use:

Service:

Let’s face it – meds come and go; therapy doesn’t always work, but you know what has a 100% a success rate?  Helping people.  I volunteer at my local Veterans hospital (look for my new blog coming soon called, “Lunch with a Veteran” about my time spent there), I collect coupons for military families in need, have several facebook groups, and write a local newsletter.  If I didn’t do all that – I’d end up thinking about my own worries, and that’s a road I don’t dare take.

Healthy Foods:

You’re probably sick of hearing about it by now, but it really does help!  Oh sure – I keep a chocolate stash handy, but 90% of the time (or more) I eat really healthy.  Here’s my trick: Focus on what you can add into your diet, not what you’re taking away.  If you have a farmer’s market near you – shop there!  Trust me, the food tastes better (better for you, too).  My rule is that if it comes from the produce section – there is no budget.  It’s only that other stuff that we’re careful on.  Hey it works – I’m the first woman on my mom’s side of the family to lose weight in at least 3 generations!

A Change is Half a Vacation:

Vacation – what’s that?  Yeah, I know most people don’t get these anymore and I’m no different, but I try to regularly change up the scene.  Do something different, whether it’s a totally different recipe or one of my personal favorites – take your camera and go visit the town you live in as though you’re a tourist.  See it through new eyes.  Just do something different.  It gives your mind a mental break…and that’s partly a vacation.

Remind Yourself:

Set an alarm on your computer; get friends to remind you on Facebook; post pictures on your wall.  I don’t care how you do it, but happiness is a habit and if you don’t have the habit set – you need constant reminders.  I like posting quotes on the walls in my bathroom.  It’s my little room of inspiration.  Strange?  Perhaps, but it’s my thing.  Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last.  Well neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Want to Do it:

I find it alarming how few people, when pushed, want to make the effort to be happy.  Find what motivates you – what you will fight for no matter what.  For me, I have that low pain tolerance, and by now I have a reputation so people really notice it when I’m not happy.  With all the service projects I do, a lot of people wouldn’t be the same if I weren’t taking care of myself.  I’ve created a life with built in checks so that I have to maintain this level of cheer and joy.  So whether it’s your kids, your future goals, or a desire deep within yourself – FIGHT FOR IT!  It really is worth it.

 “Most folk are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  ~Abraham Lincoln

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Wheelchair Etiquette – the Do’s & Don’ts for Walkers when they see Rollers.

People didn’t used to rush to my side every time I approached a doorway, or offer to carry my groceries when all I bought was a loaf of bread.  People didn’t used to lift chairs out of the way when I walked through a restaurant or jump and startle as they came out of the handicap stall in the restroom, and then apologize with a guilty look as though they had no right to use it.  No, before I was in a wheelchair, things were a lot different in both good and bad ways.  A lot of things have changed but before I go into all that, let me start with this short disclaimer:

 I know that most people are trying to help me.  I recognize that all else being equal, nearly everyone is kind if given the opportunity and that the average soul doesn’t know what to do when confronted with a person in a wheelchair, they don’t know what the norms – the social conventions are, so they default to being overly cautious.  As errors go, it’s a good one.  I realize this.  Because I realize this, I have said nothing for year after year but maybe I should have said something sooner because now it’s busting out of me.   It’s time people learn how to deal with it, so here comes the storm!

Let me paint a picture for you.  I’ve been increasingly disabled all my life.  There are two inherent advantages in that statement – (1) “increasingly” meaning I’ve had time to get used to them as each new level appears; and (2) “all my life” meaning I’m used to this.  Do I like it all?  No.  Do you like every aspect of your life?  I didn’t think so.  Point made. 

Let me start with the basics here – if I need help, I will ask for it.  I’m pretty sure that’s the same as any able-bodied person.  If I don’t – I won’t.  If I do need help and I don’t ask – that’s my problem, not yours.

So if I’m going into the restroom stall – don’t open the door for me and for god’s sake don’t close it for me.  I’ve been going to the bathroom all by myself for plenty of years now and I don’t need your help.  Does anyone question your ability to use a restroom?  No?  Then don’t question mine!  Oh and let’s make one thing perfectly clear here.  If there isn’t a handicapped person in the restroom – it’s up for anyone to use.  Okay?  If you come out and see a disabled person, don’t freak out – they’re simply the next person that’s going to use it, like anyone else following you.  You’re not being judged for being in there.  It’s a public toilet – it’s there to be used.

If I’m loading some groceries onto my scooter (electric wheelchair), I realize that the store personal are required to ask if I need help.  If I reply that I don’t need any help, let it be!  Customers should let it be too!  This is one of those situations where I got all you Walkers beat!  Yeah, I’ll bet you’re real proud about how you can lug in all those plastic bags, right?  I’ve seen the memes, but guess what?  I can do it with bags without handles and not be sore afterward.  I can carry over a hundred pounds and still go at top speed for hours.  Can you?  Excuse me, but can I help you with your groceries?  Mmhm, you didn’t think of it that way, did you?  You have legs of bone and muscle.  My legs are motors and metal – there are times where they rock yours right out of the water.

Now I’m all in favor of chivalry.  I love guys opening doors for me and I always have – no matter what my age, but it really took a change when I went into the chair.  Now everyone does it – with a look of desperation on their face, as if I might pass out if I try to open a door on my own.  Oh – and you should see their faces when no one gets to the door in time and I open it on my own – I have almost gotten a round of applause before.  I’m serious!  It was just a door you push open!  They were so proud you’d think I’d just given birth or something (and a little boy started to clap before the mom stopped him).  Once I even had a very pregnant woman with 2 toddlers and both her arms full of shopping rush to the door to open it for me, dropping her goods in the process.  OMG!  I so badly wanted to tell her to deal with her own life – she clearly had enough on her plate.  (I smiled broadly and told her, “thank you very much” – same as I always do though).  Folks – here’s my next lesson for y’all: you don’t need legs to open doors.  Got it?  Good.  Moving on…

One of my personal favorites is coughing and sneezing.  I’m lucky because one of the advantages of having multiple auto-immune disorders is that I don’t get the common flu or cold and such, but every once in a while everyone is going to cough – or sneeze.  If I do, especially if I do it more than once – watch out!  If I’m in a store or in some area with employees around – they panic.  You can almost see it written on their faces, (“Oh God, don’t let her die here!!”)  … … … Really?  I just don’t even know what to say to that, yet it’s as predictable as the summertime is in Arizona.  Folks – relax!  I’ll try not to inconvenience you and die somewhere else (rofl) seriously – treat my cough like anyone else’s!

This blends neatly into my next issue.  I’ve learned to wear makeup every time I go out – LOTS of makeup.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t look caked on – but it does look young and trendy.  My purple hair adds to that effect, too.   The point is – when you’re a Walker – you can look a little down, a little worn or tired for a day.  No one cares.  If you’re a Roller – don’t you dare!  Everyone is sure you’re about to die.  Since a little makeup won’t do it for me – I gotta go with lots, so I have fun with it.  I think it’s fun that people think I’m a decade or so younger than I am, but I do get tired of them and the “she’s so brave” attitude.  You know, it doesn’t take balls to wear cute makeup in a wheelchair.  Let’s make that perfectly clear.  Let’s save the “bravery” for real courageous actions.

Oh, and if I only have a tiny bit to walk, I will take my canes in (yes, plural – one for each hand) and wobble-walk.  So let’s say my boyfriend and I have gone to a restaurant that we know.  We go in, and as the hostess is taking us to our table she charges ahead at a fast clip even for a Walking person.  That leaves me left waaaaaaay behind.  For all I know she’s at our table, but I’m 6 feet past the hostess stand, wondering where she is.  I think this is a bit of common sense.  If someone you’re walking with is only going 1 step every few seconds, and has obvious reason for it – then you should probably go the same pace.  Just a thought… Don’t leave someone with a cane in the dust.

One last thought…

I see curious children all the time.  They tug on their parent’s clothes and whisper to them about my chair, it’s clear they have questions that their parents can’t answer. 

Here’s how to handle your children around a wheelchair:

Ask the person politely if your child may ask their question.  It really is that simple!  Personally I love educating kids about it most of the time but there are days when I really shouldn’t be interacting with people (just like anyone else), and there are some people who really don’t want to be bothered ever.  How do you know?  You ask.  Just walk up and do your own version of, “excuse me, but my daughter is curious about your chair.”  That’s all.  Mine even has a little horn button that I like to let kids ‘honk’.  I love explaining it to kids and maybe if they got their questions answered at these tender ages while their brains are forming, they wouldn’t grow up into adults that do such stupid things later.

Sincerely,

A Wobble-Walker and Speed-Demon Roller – (‘Walk N Roller’ for short )

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There’s only one way to find out…

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  Growing up, it was a phrase repeated as often as, “hello” and it was given far more weight.  My dad said it to us kids over and over again and though we loved to challenge it, he never backed down.

 “You can do anything you want to if you really wanna do it.”

 On road trips, in the house, in the yard, everywhere we were we made up things that we were sure would trip him up but it never did.  Yes, we could fly off of the Empire State Building, but we had to want it bad enough.  Yes, we could breathe underwater, but we better be sure we wanted it an awful lot.  Yes, we could, yes we could, and yes we could.  That was the message of my life – all my life – yes, I could.

Those words were a source of strength and inspiration for me and pulled me through a great deal of difficulties, so it’s hard to fault them.  I understand that my dad believed he was doing the right thing and I know he believed those words himself, but I no longer do.

That’s right, I no longer do.  It’s amazing considering what those 13 words have done for me in the past and my mind is still amazed at all I’ve accomplished with something I now believe is false…

Let’s take a look at it.

 My dad first came into my life when I was four years old.  Most would call him a “step-dad” but I don’t like such labels.  He’s my dad, plain and simple.  Within a few months of having met him I stepped on a rusty nail that went all the way into my foot, and with his careful hands, a pocket knife, and that knowledge that I could do anything – he dug it out of my foot one piece at a time.

In second grade, my parents drew me a bath, but the water was too hot.  Exhausted and with a headache my dad said, “It’s not too hot if you don’t think it’s too hot”.  Okay, so I went back into the bathroom and willed it to be comfy – and it was.  I played so long in the tub that the water got cold, so I willed it warm again.  What a fun trick!

As I grew, I would change the shape of my thumbnail, heal sunburns, win huge awards, and most important of all – just keep going…all because of that simple phrase he had said so many times in my life.  “You can do anything you want to if you really wanna do it.”  There were a lot of truly spectacular events in my life, and I came to rely on the miracles of my own belief.

The thing is though, that phrase began to do me a lot of harm and it was so insidious that I don’t know when it started.  Even when I began to notice it I didn’t know what had caused it, I just knew I was always guilty.  Guilty, guilty, guilty….

Guilty if I was sick, guilty if I didn’t take 1st in everything, guilty if I kept anyone waiting even a moment – even if it was because I was injured!  Always guilty!!  Eventually it got bad enough that others began seeing it and started telling me that I couldn’t be Superwoman but pffft – they didn’t understand.  Of course I could – I already was!  I tried to explain the things I’d accomplished in my life and how it’s so important to believe, “you can do anything you want to if you really wanna do it” but all they saw was a woman beating herself up for being human…and feeling it was because she hadn’t “wanted to” badly enough.

Oh but they just didn’t understand!  I tried to explain, tried to get them to fix their thinking so they could accomplish more great things like I had…but it didn’t work.  Finally I learned to keep quiet. 

That’s when I noticed something.  Sure – they hadn’t accomplished the big stuff I had, but they were happy and at peace with themselves – and I wasn’t.  Was this the trade-off?

NO WAY!!  “you can do ANYTHING you want to…” so I simply had to work harder to find a way to have BOTH!  … … … Yeah, that took another few years of burning myself out and running into a lot of “failures” but it wasn’t until other people attacked my flaws that I finally figured it out. 

Maybe it’s because I’ve had a life of conflict – but that’s when it all clicked for me.  When someone was insulting me and some of my inadequacy I finally found the courage to rise to the challenge and realized it really was just human nature.  How dare they see it as anything else!  (How dare I…)

The final straw was in running into someone else with the same problem and as I sat there and gave words of advice, a part of me was shocked at what was coming from my mouth.  Was this really me?  Yet I believed it, and I embodied it fully.  I had come full circle now and had evolved to a whole new axiom about life. 

This is the gist of that belief that I later posted on Facebook:

“I’ve heard it said countless times throughout my life, ‘you can do anything you want to if you really wanna do it’.  Those words were a source of courage and strength to me during some of my darkest hours and I’m grateful for them but I have come to view them now as FALSE.

 

“They’re close, like the best of lies always are – but they cause so much harm because of the truth they leave out.  Here is the truth as I see it instead:

 

“You can do most things, and you will often surprise yourself with what you can do, so you must try everything with all your heart, mind and strength to find out what you can do; but you cannot do everything.  If you fail, it was not your fault – you simply cannot do everything, but there was only one way to find out.”

 

Never Let the Hamburglar Hold You

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The Hamburglar – Me – Ronald McDonald

The Set Up

When I was just a baby my parents took me to see a grand opening of a new McDonald’s restaurant.  I was already quite fond of their french fries (a story almost worth its own blog) and since the store was hiring people to come as the famous characters, it promised to be fun for the whole family.

I may have been young, but I knew who Ronald McDonald was and I was happy to be put in his arms for a photo.  What I didn’t know was that the person playing the Hamburglar had a small child of their own, just about my age.  He naturally wanted to hold me, too and Ronald, knowing the man in person, naturally started to hand me over.

The Dilemma

What I DID know was that the Hamburglar was the bad guy in all the commercials.  He was always trying to steal the hamburgers!  I didn’t even know why he was there – why didn’t Ronald make him go away like he did in all the commercials?

My parents came over and told me he was okay but I didn’t believe them.  I refused to go to him, so instead of getting a picture with the Hamburglar holding me, we got the picture you see here – the dilemma that haunted me then and haunts so many of us now.  Do we trust what everyone around us is saying – even the experts?  Or do we trust our own senses? 

The Philosophy

I never did let him hold me; even though it turns out he was a perfectly good guy.  My experiences, short as they were at that point, told me he was the bad guy and I didn’t care how many people told me otherwise.  So now I look back on my life and marvel at the determined will I had back then…and how much of it I kept and lost over the years. 

I haven’t always stuck to my resolve so well.  I have let myself be easily swayed by others at times, but my true nature is to trust myself first…even if I am wrong. 

I think it’s an important lesson for those of us with physical/mental disorders.  There are frequently people in our life – quite often family and professionals – who tell us that we can trust that man in the funny hat.  Don’t worry; he’s safe, no matter what your gut tells you.  They cite their experience and their white coats at you and it’s so easy to waver and let them hold you awhile. 

~*~*~DON’T!! ~*~*~

Trust yourself – even if you are wrong sometimes, because you Will be wrong sometimes and that’s okay.  You live with your symptoms the most and that makes you the expert on you.  Remember that.  Neuroscientists are beginning to understand just how complicated some of these illnesses are and more and more often they’re finding that the patients are more right than they thought they were, even if they didn’t have the medical terminology to explain it. 

Be honest with yourself and stay true to who you are and

never – never let the Hamburglar hold you unless you want him to. 

 

 

I’m Not “Lion” About Your Abilities

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Now this is a long story just to make a simple point – so bear with me.  I promise I’ll make it worth your while with a nifty tale that you never saw coming…we sure didn’t.

When I was a pre-teen I visited my step-mother’s parents who in turn took us all to see a drive-through wildlife safari (think “drive through zoo”).  At the time it was a huge novelty, though it’s since become much more common.

I was thrilled and at peace at the same time.  I was usually bullied quite a bit while visiting that side of the family and now they were just as busy as I was staring out the windows.  What a wonderful reprieve!  Of course, that was beside the fact that we were practically visiting new worlds just inches away though the car.

I could barely believe it when I saw the Ostriches with their “backward” knees.  Where ours bend forward, theirs bend backward.  It looked so odd to me, yet those spindly legs can carry their heavy bodies very fast – over 40 mph!

We saw Giraffes and Buffalo and one animal after another – each more interesting than the last (except for one of the wild cats – they were hiding somewhere, probably sleeping).

The real peak of the day though, was the Lions. 

After not seeing the previous wild cats, we could barely believe our good fortune when we pulled up and there they were – all sprawling under a huge tree.  The whole pride was just lounging around and barely seemed concerned by our presence at all.  So we pulled into a little viewing area, leaving room for any other cars to drive past us (though none came), and turned off the car. 

Now Lions are, of course, from Africa and this was the Pacific Northwest.  So it was colder than they were used to.  In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have been surprised then, when a Huge Lioness jumped up onto the hood of our station wagon, to soak up the heat.  She was loving it!  She sprawled out on it, opened her mouth happily, and relaxed, contented.

I wish I could say the same about us.  We were freaking out!  One of the world’s top predators was Right There!  In Front of Us!  And in case you need reminding – it’s the females that do the hunting – not the males.  I know the male could rip us to shreds, too – but somehow that fact made it worse in my mind that day.  This was a huntress.  We were meat.  It’s not really the combo expect to find yourself in on a summer’s drive…

It didn’t take long for others to notice how much fun she was having and another female started sniffing around on the hood.  Mind you – we had been too scared to drive away because lions are easily heavy enough to break the glass and get into a car if they chose to/got scared.

  We were just doing our best not to look like lunch.

Female #1 growled and swiped at female #2 (we managed somehow not to scream, but I admit, I jumped a bit).  So Female #2 went to the trunk and decided to lay down there.  My dad began to worry (out loud) about the strength of the shocks and the tires.  Grandpa worried about the other mechanical parts that I didn’t recognize.  Mom told them to shut up.

Well now it was clearly a party and the Male Lion wanted in on it (there’s only one male adult and he’s in charge, along with one female adult).  He came to Female #1 first and sniffed around – she ignored him.  So he put his paws on the front bumper and we were Really Worried about the weight now.  Female adult lions range from 264-400 lbs., but males?  Male adult lions can range from 330-550 lbs.  Together that’s close to a ton!  If they got into a fight over our bumper…well a windshield isn’t all that tough.  So… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination – it was very clearly in ours.

I honestly began to wonder how long my parent’s bodies would slow them down…

So he started edging up onto the hood of the car, making his presence known and she growled at him!  We were shocked to say the least.  Like most people, we thought that males ran the place when it came to lions.  He growled back and she swiped at him!  It turns out that the male only dominates in certain circumstances, allowing the alpha female to lead in all other areas, and this was apparently one of those areas.  (The male is basically lazy.)  So he went to the trunk and the female there moved immediately…to the roof of the car!

We were now ducking as the roof dented in on top of us from the weight of a lioness.  We had put it together that it was the Alpha Female on the hood, and the Male Lion (thus Alpha) was on the trunk.  We were surrounded.  All I could think of was the Wile E. Coyote cartoon and how I hoped we didn’t look like a roasted turkey.  Well…that and that the roof held…we all know what happens when a cat falls.  Those claws come out and it wouldn’t be a pretty sight after that.

Oh and for any young’ins reading this – this was before the age of cellphones and other such devices.  So unless one of us wanted to ­get out and go find a ranger – we were kinda just waiting for the lions to get interested in something else.

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Okay, so what was the point in that story (cool as it was)?

Well I hope it was entertaining – that’s worth something all on its own in distraction value, but there was more to it than that.   As I’ve dealt with a multitude of debilitating illnesses over the years (I swear they’re like potato chips – no one ever gets just one), I’ve often felt like I did that day. 

These illnesses and their symptoms are bizarre at times – it’s a whole new world and it’s wild and raw…much like the new world I saw in the Lion’s enclosure that day. 

Sometimes you pull yourself over to rest, to enjoy a piece of life the way you should and what happens?  A freaking Lioness hops onto you!  Mmhm – you know I’m talking about your symptoms now.  You’re scared as hell but you quell the panic and you deal with it.  You know 90% or more of your friends/family could never handle the stress and pain of a lioness on them – but you’re doing it and you finally calm down.

But just as you’re calming down…just getting that nightmare under control, what happens?  You know where I’m going with this – Another lioness jumps up on you!  Yeah, you know the rest of the story… You finally you find yourself surrounded by the Wild Beasts in what seems an impossible and unbelievable situation.  You only came here for a bit of beauty! 

>>> WHAT HAPPENED?!? <<<

Here’s the thing though – no rescues came for us that day.  No one knew there was a problem.  It was actually only a few minutes before the big male lion jumped down off the back, and after him the 2nd female, followed by the alpha female.  We were just fine, though I don’t know about the car – that’s one advantage to being a kid.  (Believe me, it seemed like a LOT longer.)

My point is that you don’t need anyone to rescue you

If you have this stuff, you’ve been through this before and I’m sorry to say it but you’ll probably be there again.  The good news is that you can wait it out.  You know that those lions will leave in time, so don’t fight it.  Don’t dwell on it – don’t stare at the teeth and claws.  Find something else to focus on…and eventually you’ll have a story to tell.

Oh – and yes – this is a true story.

Lessons the Pigeons Taught Me

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I Love to be Underestimated

When I was a child, we raised homing pigeons.  I remember the thrill when we took the first two pigeons born in our roost and drove to my grandparent’s house to let them go.  I was so nervous!  What if we never saw them again?

The birds flew up and circled around once…then half again…then started off in the direction of home.  I was thrilled!  Late that night when we got home – there they were…I was impressed.  They had made the 75+ mile trip, and avoided the dangers of predatory birds along the way.

It was to be the first of many times they impressed me.  This time I had learned not to underestimate them – to let them show me what they could do.

Great Expectations…

Sometimes we’re given too much pressure and we just don’t know what to do with it.  When homing pigeons fly, they nearly always have a flying mate – a bff if you will.   They bonded this way shortly after hatching, long before their first flight out of the roost and we named them in pairs accordingly.

Thus my dad, an avid WWII buff, happily named “his pair” General Patton and General Bradley.  He was a huge fan of General Patton and eagerly looked forward to watching the bird fly.  Alas, the bird was not to live up to his namesake and only flew as far as our roof, where he waited until his flock returned in the evening.  One brave day he went as far as the neighbor’s roof.  That was the sum total of his adventuring.  It was pretty hilarious!

 Amazing Lessons

My dad is a rough circle-of-life kind of guy, but I’m a tender-hearted believer.  Thus, when a tiny bird was pushed out of its nest (turns out they’re not very good parents) and his legs were broken, my dad was going to “put it out of its misery,” but I begged and pleaded for it to be given a chance.  I saw me in that bird and I needed it to survive.

Survive it did – and then some!  Its original name had been Licorice, due to its coloring, but she (it’s really hard to sex a baby bird, but I was identifying with it, so I called it a “she”) was now renamed to Candy for two reasons:  1) Because she no longer had a flying mate to go with her previous name, and 2) Because to help her survive, we had put a large can in the cage with some nesting material inside for her to live in.

Her legs never did heal – they were completely useless to her.  So in order for her to peck and get the seeds on the ground – she had two choices – to lay on the ground and get what was in reach, or to try to fly very close to the ground.  Laying meant the other birds would peck at her – it sounds awful (and it is) but it’s their way of saying, “you’re sick and we only want healthy members in our flock”.  Flying meant that the ground would get in the way of her wings – and the downdraft would move the seeds.  Neither seemed possible, but I believed in her.

That One, Special Moment

Then came the day it happened.  My dad rushed into the house – red faced from exertion and excitement (asthma too, but that doesn’t make as good a story).  He told me to come out there – the other kids could come later but I had to see it first.  So I ran outside with him.

I saw the flock, but I didn’t see anything unusual.  He told me to look very carefully at the lead bird.  Well the lead bird had always been easy to spot due to his pale feathers…but wait a minute…that’s…that’s…it can’t be!  Is it?

My dad was grinning from ear to ear!  It was Candy!  No one would fly with her but she didn’t need a flying mate.  She couldn’t walk, but she didn’t need legs.  Now she led the flock – she was the lead bird.  It takes a lot of strength to be the lead bird because all the others draft off of it, and in long distance flights they take turns, but she never gave it up.  She never had to!  She was strong enough all on her own.

Moral of the story

I imagine that by this point I don’t have to explain the moral of the story, but I will fast forward a bit into my own life.

You see – I can’t really walk anymore due to my various conditions.  I have a hard time making friends physically (online is easy) because of those same mobility issues and other disorders.  In essence, Candy and I have the same problems – I can’t walk and I have no flying mate.

I believed in her though, when she was as ugly as it’s possible to get (baby birds don’t start out pretty, you know), when the whole world seemed set against her.  So now I will believe in me, and maybe someday I’ll be leading the flock.

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This is what baby pigeons start out looking like. Candy was still beautiful to me though – she was a fighter and I knew it.

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This is how homing pigeons end up looking – and this one is somewhat similar to Candy (except that this one is male – you can tell by the time they’re adult from their coloring, and it turns out I was right about her sex even though I guessed when she was a chick). They’re really very gorgeous animals.