A Heartbreaking and Liberating Tale

Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you

for everything.

– Mary Oliver, from WHAT DO WE KNOW

I saw the new movie Leave No Trace this week and was deeply moved by the story. I left the theater with a heavy heart – acutely aware of the pain so many people carry around inside of themselves. And then I came across this Mary Oliver quote and thought about how hard it is to begin the journey deep inside to those dark places allowing the light to illuminate what’s hidden there. In my experience, this is the way the journey to forgiveness begins, whether it be of self or other. Sometimes forgiving oneself – for what we’ve done to our unique, precious beings – is harder than forgiving others.

There’s little back story in the movie, but there is one clue to Will’s (Ben Foster) pain – a newspaper article about a Marine suicide squad, of which we get a few-seconds glimpse as his young teenage daughter Caroline/Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) sneaks a look through papers he’s left in full view in a zip-lock bag on the couch of one of their ever changing residences in the deep woods of Forest Park, Oregon. And, there’s the never-answered question of what happened to Caroline’s mother. Although, there are many other questions that come up for me during the movie – for instance, how long had they been living in the woods? – the story is so compelling my questions don’t seem to matter. The present – what’s happening inside the father-daughter relationship as the drama of their return to the world of houses, furniture, and human interactions unfolds on the screen and inside my being – is what carries me.

One thing I do wonder about throughout the film is how each of them understands the circumstances of their capture. Along with that, I’m curious about how each of them comes to grips with his/her separateness from the other, when for so long it seems they may have lived as one being – together in everything, including their minds and hearts. The story never speaks to either question directly, but as the film unfolds we see in their faces and body-language, and hear in their words exchanged, something of the inner workings of Will and Caroline, as they understand more about themselves and each other.

The story is simultaneously a heartbreaking, and a deeply liberating tale of two people who deeply love and feel each other, and struggle, inside of that love, with their own pasts. Caroline has her unshared story about her mother, and the beautiful, yet isolated, life she shared with her father in the deep, accepting woods. Will, it seems, has a darker past, and certainly a longer one, which we never know much about but, which by the end of the movie, has me weeping for his pain, and for the depth of pain present in many configurations in our world today. A pain that I sense may be wedged deeply within the collective heart and soul of our world conscience.

Now I’m asking myself why I wrote this post. Maybe to remind myself how much I appreciate the opportunity to connect with the empathic, compassionate part of me that can, after many years of frozen feelings, finally feel deeply again. Through well-told stories, I have the chance to see and feel into the lives of others, to open my mind to other realities, and hopefully, soften my judgments. I’m offered a way to connect with my own dark past, and my personal and collective, on-going liberation and self-forgiveness. As my own journey of discovery into the dark places where I’ve held much of myself hostage for many years continues to unfold, I realize that the feeling of freedom – to love, to weep, to create, to relate, and simply to be without fear – deepens when I dive down and let the light in, no matter how grave my fear. In those times when fear pokes it’s head in to deter me, I remember how the universal good energy has had my back so many times before, and how, like I heard from a dream analyst many years ago, the universe (God, infinity, the cosmos, good juju) would never put a challenge before me that I could not handle. My biggest challenge to feeling free is most always my fear of change, of the unknown, and I know that by not allowing change, not stepping into the unknown, I continue to be a prisoner, hiding and running.

Maybe Will’s dark places, his demons, are just too overwhelming to even fathom. I cannot know another’s reality. Maybe that’s why I left the theater with such a deep grief. So, where is the liberation? Caroline comes to realize certain things as she and her father maneuver awkwardly outside of the woods. I wonder if the light inside her shone so brightly it was seen by the forest workers without her intending it. Her father had taught her so many things about survival – and my guess is her young self listened well, and learned things she and her father never realized were being taught. I imagine she will find her own sense of freedom, and continue to grow in her love for her father and her understanding of his pain.

I love movies!

 

 

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What Does It Mean to Show Up?

I watched the annual Fourth of July Butte to Butte 10k race from my balcony this morning and had a heartwarming sense of being a part of the event, even though I was three stories above the ground the runners’ feet pounded. I sat at the wide-open French doors smiling, taking in the exhilaration, exhaustion (my apartment is near the end of the race), camaraderie, and sheer joy that comes with being a part of something with other humans. It felt as if all my pores were wide-open, inviting in whatever vibes were emanating from the crowds below. I wasn’t lamenting about how my one-legged body never took to running, or berating my self for not trying harder to make it happen if I really wanted it. I wasn’t calling myself names like lazy or jealous. And, I was reminded of my previous week of traveling and performing with two different groups of dancer friends where I enjoyed the same sense of well-being, though I showed up in much more of a participatory way. How could the two different experiences generate the same inner contentment?

Early in the previous week, I traveled five hours by train to Seattle to perform in Joy Ride Unavoidable, an event sponsored by the Northwest Film Forum. We were a group of five performers who’ve been working together for a few years. The event was a multi-art extravaganza, showcasing four films by four artists, and an audience participation performance of Pina Bausch’s Nelken Line by a group of Dance 4 Parkinson’s dancers. I presented a short summary of my book, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance, read a few short excerpts while dancing around the audience in my wheelchair, and then passed the reading on to a fellow dancer. I made my way onto an eight-by-eight foot stage set on three-foot risers and began a duet with another much-loved dancer. The reading and our movement interactions informed our ten-minute improvisation. The three of us had rehearsed briefly a few hours before the show. And, although we’ve known each other for many years, together we’d never before done anything like what we did that night. We were open to the possibilities, and invited our audience to join in the surprises.

Later in the week, I traveled south, to Ashland, OR, to perform with DanceAbility International on the Green Stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A fully choreographed show, and a piece I’d performed many times before with my current dance partner, this event was different from the one in Seattle. We all knew what to expect…or did we? Sure, we each knew our routines, the flow of the pieces, how we’d begin and end, and since we’d been there before, we had a sense of the staff and audience. Yet, it seems all of that is just a small part of what happens during an event or a performance. It’s always something of an improvisation between the players and the watchers – the anticipation, expectations, surprises. The energy exchange. The love – dare I say?

Maybe that’s exactly it – the love, the sum total of myself I’m willing to share as either a participant/performer or watcher/audience is what brings that heartwarming sense of well-being. The runners making their way past my balcony this morning were inviting me into their experience. They were revealing themselves as participants in life, living fully in each moment while carrying on with their fellow travelers. I was a part of something I wasn’t really participating in because they opened themselves to me.

It’s my hope that I can do the same – invite others to share in my living in all spheres. It’s not that I aim to share everything I think and do with others – more just the sense of being alive with an openness that invites others into the spirit of my life. It’s why I took the time to write a memoir. And I hope I can find ways to join in the spirit of others’ lives. Seems to me this is the way we grow, and learn to accept and love. Maybe even be happy – whatever that much-overrated state of being encompasses.

Here’s a picture of the DanceAbility crew in our civvies after the Oregon Shakespeare Festival performance. That’s me in the middle in the yellow shirt.

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I Show Up – Good Stuff Happens

Yesterday, I set up a table hawking my book, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance at a Discover Your Potential local event, hosted by PowerOnWithLimbLoss.com, for folks with limb loss and other physical challenges. The program included personal stories shared by kids and adults with physical challenges, vendors with information about health and healing, prosthetics, accessible vans, bikes, archery equipment, adaptive yoga, wheelchair basketball, and rock wall climbing. It was the first event of this sort I’d been to with the hopes of not only promoting my book, but meeting others with stories similar to my own. I was excited, yet didn’t want to get my hopes up – what if it was a bust? Gotta be ready for anything, I told myself.

As I got out of my car wondering who I’d find to help me carry in my table and box of books, I was greeted by two beautiful young men, one of whom was sporting two above the knee, mechanically-slick protheses. The guys were brothers with a business aimed at designing prosthetics, and tools to repair them, hoping to give their clients maximum input in the building and maintenance of their mobility aids. The bionic one of the duo also had a flesh-and-blood hand with fingers permanently bent in toward his palm. He effortlessly picked up the table in that hand and amazed me as he strolled in to the venue, loaded down with gear and smiling, as I wheeled in my chair and his normie brother carried his own load. We laughed and joked about our situations and shared excited hopes for the day ahead. I later learned he was an Afghanistan IED explosion survivor, and filled up with tears–of sadness yes, but mostly with that full heart feeling of amazement at the human spirit’s ability to thrive despite horrific circumstances–as he recounted the story. If nothing more happened that would’ve been gift enough for having made the effort.

Not so fast, though. During the program part of the day, I heard the stories of three amazing kids, all amputees, all under eighteen, and all triggered that same joyous full heart feeling. One young boy had two half arms with rock wall climbing abilities, a personality and presence bigger than life itself, and a desire to be DJ. The middle-school boy had been legless since birth, a medal-winning and NIKE team wheelchair basketball star who performed hand stands on various surfaces, and professed his intention to become a medal-winning skier this year. Lastly, we heard from a teenaged girl who lost her entire right leg to cancer at age five. She’s a NIKE team swimmer, hoping to make the paralympics, and a successful half-marathon finisher times two. Already, I’m over the top in gratitude and inspiration.

I sold a few books, got many compliments on my cover art, and the pictures I displayed of my own dinosaur prosthesis from the 1960-70s. I met and chatted with people with new limb loss, seasoned amputees, family members, professionals dedicated to making life easier for those of us with altered bodies, and recreation enthusiasts eager to share their innovations in adaptive equipment of all sorts.

So much had come of the short day, I was content. It was way more than worth my time. And then–the rock climbing began. I watched, secretly wondering if I could do it. Would my arms come through for me? Would I get halfway up and lose strength, feel embarrassed and have to retreat? Could I even make it up one hold? Would the sling hold me? So many questions and a big fear of failure and humiliation. As if trying isn’t good enough. I have to remind myself that trying is much more than good enough when I get out of my own way.

So I tried. Kristen, the lovely young woman from the local university Adaptive Sports program, was encouraging, gentle, supportive–a true delight. She strapped me into a special harness designed to provide more support for the back and prevent me from tipping to the right where my leg and pelvis are missing. I was belayed, and Kristin climbed along side me. We made contact with the wall and immediately I was climbing. I had to help lift my foot with my arm onto the outcroppings at some points, but, with what felt like minimal effort, I ascended–all the way to the top. I’m delighted, proud of myself, and just maybe I’ve found a new challenge to keep me inspired and fit. We’ll see if I keep to my promise to myself to attend the two upcoming adapted climbing workshops at the university. I’m pretty sure I will–they’re on my calendar!

Here’s a sneak peak thanks to the photos of a sneaky pal:

 

 

Creating to find Peace

I recently came across this quote by Maxine Hong Kingston:

In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment. 

Seems like almost every day we hear about some awful destruction happening somewhere in the world, sometimes in our own backyards. And, for sure, I’ve created many moments of destruction in my own life. This quote reminds me of the power of creating – something I allude to in my book, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance, and continue to experience whenever I give myself the gift of time to create.

I spent part of this morning working on an adaption of a much performed DanceAbility piece with Alito and Jana, a lovely, young, committed DanceAbility artist. Moving together and finding images others will take in with their eyes, and hopefully with their hearts, is good for my heart. So was playing within the Tuning Scores structure I immersed myself in for the first two weeks of this month. Exploring space with my eyes closed and open, finding stillnesses with my fellow dancers, making shapes, feeling my skin, muscles and bones as I roll around the floor or slide across walls – all that, and the gift of witnessing others do the same. And making marks on paper, whether they be lines and shapes or letters and words, it’s all creating – allowing parts of me that get left behind in the day-to-day frenzy of living, working, and being surrounded by the news to have their say.

There are many ways to promote peaceful moments and I’m with Ms. Kingston in that I know, somewhere deep in my cells, that finding that peaceful place in me is one of the things I can do anywhere, anytime I create the space needed to make the inward journey to that place. When I do, things settle inside and I’m able to bring more of my heart to whatever I’m involved in.

I made some silly (in a most fun and fulfilling way) computer images during my two weeks of dancing this month. Till the next time, here’s one I really like:

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