Saturday, July 07, 2007

Real

I did not have it easy as a child. Not being a fan of the reams of abuse biography out there, I choose not to say too much about it. Suffice it to say that I embrace the safety of my adulthood with full heart. Though recently I've been thinking about Evelyn, a woman who lived with her husband in a neighbourhood near mine. She seemed to understand that the fat kid from down the way was having a rough go of it. As such she always made space for me. And more significantly to me now, she was the first person with a disability I ever really met.

She and her husband seemed to always have been poor. But they managed on what they had to live within their means and without missing much. I remember many times at their home, one of the few places of rest that I had as a boy. When her husband died, Evelyn, mourned him without reservation but also without devastation. It was just one more thing she no longer had. She adapted, coped and then picked up her walker and moved on.

I noticed her wedding ring only because my mother once cruelly joked about the 'bit of glass' on her finger. When I saw it I suddenly felt sorry for her, for them. It was clearly a ring of no value. A chunk of dull glass was held in place on a ring that was not gold. Once I saw her looking at her ring and I knew she was remembering him. I asked her to tell me about the day he proposed. I love those kind of stories. She smiled at me and said that she'd rather tell me about the ring.

When her husband proposed to her he gave her a ring that sparkled with vibrant fire. She knew it wasn't real, he didn't pretend. It was glass painted to sparkle. He promised her that one day he would buy her a real ring with a real stone. Over the years the sparkle wore off the ring but she loved it nonetheless. When his mother died she left him a tiny sum of money. He told her that he wanted to use the money on something frivilous, he wanted to replace the ring.

She told him that she didn't want another ring. That this ring, the one he gave her, made her think of their marriage. After the shine wore of it became real, what it was underneath. She didn't want something else, something new. She wanted to keep what was real. And so she did.

For some reason her story made me cry. In my world there was no such love, no such tenderness. She got up and stood, using her walker for balance. She shuffled over to me and sat beside me on the couch. "I want to give you some advice," she said, "hold on to what is real. Always face what's real. Don't pretend. Don't flinch. Don't look away. Face what real and you will always be ok."

Her advice has stayed with me throughout my life. I know what's real. I try not to live in the world other than it is. I remember her on her walker, slowing shuffling through a life without her husband, without many things, but being uncompromising with who she was and what she saw.

The day we moved from town, I went to say goodbye to her. I thanked her for caring for me, occasionally even loving me, and again, I cried. She hugged me and said, "You're real. Remember that no matter what ever anyone ever says about you, no matter where ever you go. You're real."

Today, I thought about her, I have just written a little note to a woman who is getting married. I wanted to tell her about Evelyn's ring. But Evelyn is much more to me that the story of her ring. She would become in my mind the model for what it was to have a disability. To exist and be 'real' in a world that would avert it's eyes from her, would pretend her non-existance and insist on her non-importance.

She was real. Her walker was real. Her heart was real.

Her advice to me would get me through much of my life, and give me a compass to lead me our of personal hell and help me navigate a world of prejudice. No matter how or why people tried to diminish me, I always knew that I was real, that I existed beyond their idea of who I was and who I could be.

Every day reality changes. One day I walked, now I roll. My wheelchair is real. But I am no less real because I sit in it.

When Evelyn died I went to her funeral. I was a stranger to the small group that gathered there. I was surprised when listening to her eulogy that she had attended university and was one of the first women in the province to be granted a degree, in philosophy. I was surprised to learn that she had been disabled for her whole life and that her husband had met and married her against huge opposition from his family. I was surprised to see a young woman wearing Evelyn's ring.

I talked with her after the cerimony and discovered that she was Evelyn's neice. I asked about the ring.

She said, "Do you know the story about this ring?" I told her that I did.

"I've kept it to remind myself about what is real." She said.

I told her I understood.

And I still do.

2 comments:

Belinda said...

Wow, this story brought tears to my eyes. I too will take the "real" over "fake" anytime.

What a treasure this couple had in their love for each other. It reminded me of another love story--I hope it's okay to go off on a tangent.

Long ago you helped bring someone into our agency--a dear and incorrigible man who was elderly then and died many years ago. He stole our hearts from the moment we met him.

One day I took him to visit one of his sisters who lived in an apartment in the city--although he was from a big farming family.

When I met his sister, Myra, it was obvious that she too, had a disability, but she had managed to get along fine in her life with no outside supports.

She was a small, eccentric and very welcoming lady--but what I remembered most, was how she talked about her husband, who had died years before. She refered to him as her "prince." She showed me his photo and told me what a wonderful man he was, how thankful she was for God bringing him into her life. As she went on about him I thought of how lucky he was to have been loved by Myra and how blessed she was to have met her prince. I wondered if I would have thought him a prince if I'd met him or if he became a prince because Myra thought him one.

I've talked about Myra and her prince to friends sometimes and seen them suddenly look at their husbands through different eyes. Perhaps they too, had a prince and just didn't know it. Perhaps they should look again. Myra was unknowingly a mentor in romance as Evelyn was in valuing what is real.

Nicole said...

All I can say is Wow, what an incredible life!