April 2018. (This is a long one, 1243 words! But as a monthly essay perhaps that’s permissible?)
“What do you mean ‘accessible’? All rooms are accessible, aren’t they?”
I was booking a hotel room recently, and this is, verbatim, what the man on the phone said when I asked for an accessible room. Taken aback, I stammered a reply. Though I don’t recall what I said, I do remember exactly how I felt: I felt cowed, timid, afraid, foolish and apologetic. Why on earth? He was self-evidently the goose, not me!
The answer lies, I think, in an “acclimatisation to imperfection” that I am negotiating this year. Not that I was ever perfect – my Favourite Wife will vouch for that – but compared to former levels of competence, I’m fast transforming into a nincompoop. I’m so accustomed to making really dumb mistakes that I assumed I was the fool, as usual, not the ignorant hotel clerk unfamiliar with Accessibility.
My incompetency list:
I run my wheelchair into doorjambs. This was once the rarest occurrence, virtually unknown, but with prism lenses my depth perception seems to be all over the place. As do the doorjambs.
I run my wheelchair into just about anything. See above. Except pedestrians – there I have an unblemished record, thankfully.
If it’s liquid, I will spill it. Tea, sauce, paint, milk, ink. I’d like to blame the glasses again, but I fear it’s just escalating clumsiness.
I can’t remember the next one.
Forgetfulness! That’s it. You know that thing where you go to another room to get something, and can’t remember why you’re there? I can’t remember which room I was going to, or the one I left. I seriously think this is a breathing issue, which sounds like a lame excuse, but I’ve noticed that as soon as breathing is challenged, all mental resources are subverted to solving the air crisis. I’ll soon have to start listing my lists, that’s how many bits of paper I’m carting around.
Stamina. For a long time I have had help at home every second day – which I’m not sure that I’ve admitted in these pages before. Well, as of March the workers come every day, and for twice as long. Simple things that I have had sole charge of for years while Favourite Wife is at work, things like washing up, hanging out the clothes, folding the washing … they thoroughly beat me.
Bus bungles. With multifocals relegated to the past by worsening vision, I now have one pair of glasses for following the bus route on my phone, and another pair for looking out the window to see where we actually are, and sometimes a magnifying glass to boot. More than one bus trip has been botched by pressing the bell at the wrong time, having then to call out apologetically to the driver to keep going. On one trip I pressed it wrongly twice! And this in a significantly public arena.
But, but, BUT!
Do not think for one moment that I am complaining or dissatisfied. Not for a second: this year, my 56th, is without skerrick of a doubt the best year I’ve lived. Not long ago our family of 17 traveled the high seas together, and a week before we set sail we purchased The Karenvan, which has given our family the richest summer in years. Life is extraordinarily good, and yet there is more to say.
“One of the best-kept secrets, and yet one hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up.”
This resonating quote comes from Richard Rohr, in “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life”. In this thoughtful book Rohr contrasts our early life spent seeking and establishing security in all facets: physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, and so on; with the tender, relaxed confidence that may be found in the second half of life. But the path to that wondrous state lies in loss more often than gain, and who likes to loose? As Rohr says again,
“We do not want to embark on a further journey if it feels like going down, especially after we have put so much sound and fury into going up.”
In the pages of Rejoice! I have run into a dilemma. Some of my readers, particularly friends from school, family and others of a non-religious persuasion comment that I should lay off the spiritual chit chat. “Shut up”, put more plainly. But many readers come from the years we have spent in church life; and for them it’s “more, more!” I can’t stand ‘Bible Bashing’ and find the notion of converting someone to my faith problematic. But to avoid mention of my spiritual life is simply duplicitous. So, heathen, you have been warned! Read further at your peril.
The joys of my 56th year are not simply material, not just a matter of travel and peaceful days at the lake. I dare to say that in our home and our broader family you would find many of the serious challenges that ordinary folk face. Our budget is tight and my health precarious; our minds often preoccupied with the cares all parents know well. But I enjoy a degree of contentment so expansive that I find it hard to explain. Like Eric Olthwaite’s mother’s Black Putting which was so black “that even the white bits are black”, the world often seems to me so good that even the bad bits are good.
How can this equation be balanced, where the experience of less feels like so much more? I have no glib answer, but can relate an experience. We pray in our home; Favourite Wife and I begin most days by lifting up the needs of our household, our family and others we know. I pray too in the ‘secret place’ of solitude, and recently an odd thing happened: my prayer became mostly silent. This was not sudden, it’s evolved over some years. Gradually I found myself less and less sure how to pray in any specific circumstance. How do I know what is actually best? Life teaches you that the thing you long for can turn out to be hollow, and the thing you fear brings more life than seems possible. Who am I to tell God what he ought to do? – which I have certainly spent a fair amount of time doing in the past. Added to that, I became absorbed in two aspects of the Divine which seem overlooked. Firstly God’s invisibility: it’s patently obvious, and yet scarcely acknowledged. Secondly God’s silence. This is more difficult to concede, and I suspect we suppress the truth. In one sense the voice of God is abundant: copious beauty engulfs the observant, and I have said at times that a person only needs to be still to discover the voice of God. But in another sense God seems utterly removed; silent, absent, and unconcerned with the trivial matters of human urbanity. I don’t think this statement is true, but it seems true.
This is where this essay ends, and where it also becomes a little mystifying. My silent prayer in the presence of God’s silence is the avenue of such grace that I find myself joy-filled in the midst of life’s trials; and abundantly content with things I do not understand.
As you know, I’d love to share your experience…