Sunday, October 07, 2012
Thanksgiving: Beyond Bounty
It's Thanksgiving morning.
Immediately I'm thankful that, for once as I rarely do, I slept in.
We got back late last night from a week and a half on the road, as it was a holiday weekend, the border to a long time to cross and we kept seeing our arrival time as predicted by Ted, our GPS, get later and later and later. We finally parked in the parking lot of our apartment building a little before eleven o'clock. We'd been in the car for nearly eleven hours.
On our way home I thought, as I always do, about the trip. My recent travels, whether it be to consult or to train have been typified by something new. People, often my age, come to talk to me quite personally, to tell me that a training I did twenty years ago, or one of my books, or an article I wrote, had a profound effect on who they became as a service provider. These are always tremendously private moments and I can't even begin to express what they mean to me. On this trip I spoke with three people with disabilities who told me that hearing me speak, or attending on of my workshops helped them to think differently about themselves. One man told me that hearing me say that having a disability was just a different difference turned him from a man who was angry all the time into a man who wanted to make a difference. He told me that he had just registered in a leadership training course for self advocates and he had come to see me just to tell me. Joe, who gets little credit for what he does, and I both agreed afterwards that if our careers had just been for him, it was worth it.
I am thankful for the path I have trod and the opportunities that I have had.
I am thankful that people are now, as I am bald and grey, are coming to me and speaking to me about what I've done and the difference it's made.
But mostly I'm thankful that the young man, in whose shadow I walk didn't do what he had planned to do. That young man teased, bullied, harassed because he wasn't like other boys, managed to somehow find the courage and the will and the strength to get through day after day. Every morning was full of fear, every day a fresh humiliation. Gay. Different. Alone. I'm thankful too that that boy, always big, always fat, managed to get by. I remember the face of the taunting classmate, in gym, grabbing my chest so hard that his fingerprints left bruises on my 'man boobs' as all the others laughed. I remember his face, now, that boy. I remember his name. I remember that moment as being a moment where I decided that I couldn't do it any more. That I didn't want to do it any more. That there was no purpose to doing it any more.
I won't describe here, on Thanksgiving Sunday, the tortuous and pain filled evening that followed. Tears falling on to two hand prints on my chest. Falling our of anger and hate, not at him, of course not at him, but at me. The idea that it was my fault for being different was well ingrained in me. The idea that he had a right to hurt me. The idea that it was OK to slam me into lockers, OK to make pig sounds when I went by, was fully in place. No one blames the victim like the victim.
Perhaps it was the long ride, dark coming earlier, through the night. Perhaps it was the intimate conversations with others who were determined to tell me that I mattered. Perhaps it was the shock when 'then' runs into 'now' that had me thinking about Thanksgiving in a different kind of way. I normally am thankful for what I have, for being loved, for having a home, for my job and my friends. Things that I am profoundly thankful for on an ongoing and continuous basis. Thanksgiving is symbolised, almost always, by the cornucopia of plenty.
Yet, for me, today. I'm grateful that I lived past that evening of that day where ten fingerprint sized bruises were washed by my grief. I'm grateful that I put down, for the last time in my life, the idea of suicide and got up changed. It would be well over a month for those bruises to finally fade - on my chest. On the way home, in the dark, with the gentle sounds of praise for the life I lived still echoing in my heart, I checked. And, on my soul, they are gone.