It’s a Sunday morning, and I am watching The Color of Freedom with Joseph Fiennes. I read up on Nelson Mandela on Wikipedia. I wonder if while he was living his struggle if he knew his life was destined for greatness or if it’s something he stumbled into and stayed. Like a tourist who never returns from vacation.
I’ve always felt my life was meant to achieve something monumental. I’ve not achieved anything of the norm even–much less anything monumental or of any greatness. 28 years old, no house, back to a dead end job, two two year degrees which took me five years to complete. Always a day late and a dollar short in life. Started school late (more or less), entered the workforce late, dated and became sexually active late.
Do great people intend to be great? Or does greatness find them? Do they feel any different than the rest of us? What do they know that the rest of us don’t? It is said Rosa Parks said all she wanted was to sit down because her feet hurt from working all day, and she wasn’t intentionally trying to become a civil rights activist. And why does someone’s absence make them celebrated? The Nobel Prize is for the elite. Why is it only professors who may nominate? I wish I could truly interview Nelson Mandela.
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My mind is a turtle attending a smorgasboard of thoughts. Yesterday I had a day of weakness for whatever reason. I really don’t want to speculate as to why. I just want to move onward. I’m feeling somewhat more stable today, so far. I got a pep talk or two which helped immensely. Of course inevitably the shame and embarrassment of openly having a day of weakness leaves somewhat of a mineral aftertaste the morning after.
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A couple days before I left to visit Iowa, I encountered an elderly lady at the bus stop. She told me to believe in God and He would make me walk one day.
She shuffled, and I worried her knees were going to give out on her. Ironically, I wondered if she needed a wheelchair more than I did. She wore shorts, without a doubt, polyester. Her shirt would have hung off a skeleton better than it hung off her. Her hair was fluffly, finer than cotton balls and a nice blend of white, gray, and pepper flakes. Her glasses were normal sized, but the wrinkles on her face made her features look a bit sunken in and the glasses look huge.
Immediately, I wanted to bark at her. I narrowed my almond shaped eyes into slits gave her a cold, dead stare before replying in a flat, matter-of-fact tone, “I already walk. God had nothing to do with it. I’ve always been able to walk.”
The elderly woman with her accent my ear couldn’t quite discern but suspected it was Russian or Czech. She scowled at me, offended and disgusted. “Vhy do woo have a vheelchtair dhen?”
I returned her scowl with a passing look of impatience and fleeting look of who-do-you-think-you-are. The memory of my G’ma Plum’s face flashed in front and I discarded all the dirty looks I was ready and armed with to fight such rudeness. I shifted from a lounging position to more of a proper posture. “I fall down alot when I walk and I walk slow.”
The elderly lady, with her summer sweater meekly held up by toothpick arms lost in the folds of her skin, shuffled about 45 degrees to my right, at 1 o’clock. She insisted God and Jesus would save me, and make me walk better someday. I flicked my eyes to the right past her. Slipping a cigarette out of the pack, I swallowed the sharp tongue lashing I wanted to punish her with. I sharply inhaled, and looked at her, expressionless as I reached into my right pocket for a lighter. I thought about how G’ma would handle the situation. I knew I was too stubborn to react in the same way, but I could show some kindness or compassion. “I don’t need saved. I’m okay with how I walk. I am happy with my body. I don’t need fixed. I am sure God and Jesus accept me, accept my body, too. He is just fine with who I am. He gave me this body.” I bit my tongue there refraining from temptation to indulge in a tirade that I’m unitarian and she should keep her God-will-save-you bit for someone who asks for it and also not assume anyone with a disability is mourning about what society assumes they are deprived of. I also didn’t remark I was glad to be me than to be her.
The elderly lady shuffled back to the left and kept muttering I would walk better someday. I exhaled and lit my cigarette. I figured it would keep her a couple feet away. Instead she carries on about how I shouldn’t smoke because I use a wheelchair. When the bus came, we both boarded, the bus was pulling into traffic, she announced to no one in particular while pointing at me and says “She smokes.” I ignored her, pursed my lips in a 1/2 second smile as if to say ‘hey, I don’t know her’ and looked out the window. A couple of the other passengers across from us looked from her to me, and then away in disinterest and anti-climax from my lacking reaction. She was still carrying on when I got off the bus a few minutes later.
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I wonder how Nelson Mandela managed when he got tired of his struggle.