I am.

Those two words are true–I am . Simple, and yet enormously difficult to comprehend. I want to add words that describe me, or what I want, or what I’m working on, or hope for. Essentially, how I want to be different from, or apologize for, or know, right now in total, all of who/what I am.

I ran into one of my DanceAbility friends at a local event last week and asked him what he’s been up to . He’s a man with cerebral palsy who rolls around in a wheelchair, and has aides who help him with activities of daily living. His response to my question?

“I live,” he said with an enormous smile. Nothing more, nothing less. In truth, he thrives: he makes music and art on a computer; he rides a bike more than ten miles most days; he always has at least one dog who is devoted to him; he’s loved at the yearly Oregon Country Fair for the Flamingo Taxi he pedals around after hours, picking up those who had a little bit too much fun partying. But he never tells people what he does, or what he is, or thinks. He just is – himself. I’ve danced and been in DanceAbility workshops he’s taught many times over the years. His words of wisdom to all participants and spectators always are: “Have fun!” He utters them with a wide grin as his body involuntarily contracts and spasms.

Another friend I met at a Diverse Dance workshop in 1994 uttered the same “I live” when I asked her what she did. She’s a paraplegic, dancer, bike rider, world traveler, a fantastic cook, and vibrant party hostess. She’s always impeccably dressed and ready for the next adventure. She is herself, lives her life, and feels no need to embellish her existence.

I mention these two friends because, like me, they have altered physical abilities – sometimes referred to as disabilities – and I’ve been thinking about something I heard at the amputee event I attended last week. Could it be that having physical challenges opens people to other abilities that are not so readily visible? Maybe empathy and compassion are more keenly honed in folks with altered bodies. Maybe we’re more skilled at improvisation, or seeing things for what they are. Maybe we’re less concerned about what others think, and more willing to pursue what matters to us. Maybe we know we’re lucky to be alive, and that makes many things easier to bear.

Like all creatures, I am and I live, until I die. “Who am I?” is an open question, a curiosity – maybe ever changing, maybe something I’m awakening to in each moment, consciously and unconsciously. I am, and I live are realities that I can relax into, words I can say to simplify.

Here’s a quote from Marcus Aurelius (AD121-AD180):

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive–to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

It’s enough to be, and to live.

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:

 

 

New Beginnings and Ongoing Delights

Happy New Year to you all! I hoped to get around to posting something in early January, but my early new year adventure on Vashon Island, with my long-time dance friend Karen Nelson, side-lined that hope in a most wonderful way. Hanna Barn, where Karen led the first two, of six, weeks of Dance Sensoria (explomov.weebly.com), teaching Contact Improvisation and Tuning Score skills, had no wi-fi access. Fortunately, it’s an unbelievably beautiful studio with heated dance floor, sleeping cubicles on the level above (I have my own secluded corner of the studio space for sleeping since stairs and wheelchairs do not make for an ease-ful duet), has unlimited access to the beach, the wild and wonderful woods, and a well-apportioned, yet rustic, kitchen perfect for community prepared and shared meals. I was immersed in movement and play and never missed the wi-fi–except when I gently pummeled myself for not posting earlier in this new year.

The dancing and community living were both, simultaneously, new beginnings and ongoing delights. I’d spent seven years dancing, communing, and playing with Karen and many others in the 1990s at Camp Stealth, where Karen hosted Diverse Dance inviting the mixed abilities dance community, which includes dancers with and without disabilities, to participate in an experiment in communal living and dancing. And I’d since shared in several of her twice yearly retreats at Hanna Barn. Dance Sensoria was yet another incarnation of new and ongoing adventures, this time with a core group of four, expanding up to eight on some of the ten days we indulged in the joyful, challenging, and at times, frustrating and mind-boggling delights of improvisational movement. Delights are like that–not always delightful, but always delighting in the ways they can open our minds to new challenges both in living with our inner idiosyncrasies, and in communing with the idiosyncrasies of others. We spent six hours each day learning and practicing Steve Paxton’s Material for the Spine, various Feldenkrais techniques, Qi Gong, the basics of Lisa Nelson’s Tuning Scores, and various other of the million or so scores for improvisation that Karen seems to hold somewhere inside her strong, complex body and mind. Our three-hour morning and afternoon sessions would begin with a structured exercise only to erupt into the unstructured structure of improvisational dancing, which almost always morphs into the delight of play for me. I find my poetic voice, words come from someplace other than my mind, and my body finds fun ways to play and dance, solo and with others, in what seem to be ever new ways, in ever new environments. We practiced Contemplative Dance twice each week, inviting the Vashon community to join us. In this form, we sit in meditation for the first chunk of time, then move to personal warm-up, and finally to open space, each section separated by a ring of the gong and a bow, to honor the privilege it is to share in meditation and movement with ourselves and others. Maybe because of the prayerful structure or the safe space held by all who participate, this form seems to welcome the most sacred, and the silliest, silliness, the irreverent reverence that comes when things align with something much bigger then we are, and allow us to let go of the seriousness we often find ourselves caught up in as humans.

In the course of all of this dancing and living, I found myself at various times noticing irritations and annoyances, struggling with not perfectly executing the physical exercises, wanting to bow out of things that poked at my vulnerable places, stuck in not knowing how to move in the best, most creative way, wanting to challenge rules and structures, on and on. More, though, I would notice my thought-free rolling across the warm blonde-wood floor, colliding with welcoming bodies along the way and stopping to explore soft, sensitive, or rough, physical interaction. I had the chance to scream at the universe, cataloging all my dissatisfaction in gibberish, offer blessings to those in need of support, and create silly words to a spontaneous song about dreaming of peace that popped up out of nowhere one afternoon. I ate lovingly prepared, humble meals with other improvisational beings, and fell asleep to the roars and rumbles of the ocean.

All in all, I’d say a fantastic start to the wide open spaces of this new year. I plan to celebrate life as it comes and goes, and will try to heed the advice of a recent Yogi tea tag:

“Let things come to you.”