Monday, September 07, 2009

Nothing At All

I backed my chair into position beside her. We were on a narrow street patio just in front of a small Starbucks. She noticed me and nodded. I nodded back. We did not speak. Our greeting was similar to the greeting that VW bug drivers give each other, friendly but ultimately, impersonal. Her wheelchair was of a much different design than mine. Hers had the capacity to tip backwards, and she was thusly seated. A cup of expensive coffee was in a holder within her reach. I don't drink coffee but I love the smell of it. Hers smelled of Brazil or Columbia or somewhere else exotic.

She, herself, might be considered exotic by some. She certainly did not fit the norm. Her body was much smaller than most, as if it had at some point decided, on it own, that enough was enough and simply stopped growing. Her shape was angular, her jaw strong, her arms lean. I am trying to describe her simply because this description is important to the story I am going to try to tell, the point I wish to make.

Let's take a break from her and visit me for a second. Always a fascinating subject, no? When we were in Ireland, I found a television programme that was comprised soley of an old guy painting a picture and talking about the process of painting. We used to have a similar programme here in Canada, may still. I can watch for hours. I am truly in awe of artistic talent. I watch as from the brush flows colours and even textures. I watch as suddenly from nothing comes something. I do not have this kind of talent. It strikes me as somewhat divine.

So, when the woman beside me took a sip of her coffee and then pulled out a sketch pad and a single pencil, I became alert. Then she began to draw the streetscape on the other side of the street. A first few tentative strokes became more definate. Slowly, grays turned into form and shape and shadow. Her eye darted from the pad to the street and back again. I, by now, had my tea and I sipped it as I watched. She paid little heed to me, noticing that I was watching the picture take shape. She was unselfconscious and bore my intrusion with grace.

For a while I simply looked at the other side of the street. The reality from which she was creating art. I noticed, really noticed, arches that I'd never seen before. Brickwork held my attention. Campy lettering on a restaurant sign brought a slight smile. Then I looked back and the progress was astonishing. Her pencil was now moving quickly, almost on it's own. It knew it's own mind. Without vision, it saw. Without a means for motion, it moved. Then I saw her face. She was completely gone. Lost in her art. Lost to the world. Existing somewhere else, somewhere deep, somewhere perhaps even sacred. I no longer existed to her. Coffee lost its smell. Senses ceased to matter.

She was enraptured.

I have felt this occasionally. In the middle of a lecture, in the middle of writing, I will decamp from conciousness and move somewhere very deep inside. These moments are rare and precious. These are moments where I am communing with something wildly personal, something uniquely and soley mine.

She was experiencing liberty, freedom.

In these moments of personal rapture, adjectives fall away from us. We cease to 'be' in the way we are almost always forced to 'be'. Gender. Disability. Height. Weight. Heart Status. It's all gone. There is a pureness. A sweetness. It's being lost and found at the same time. It's what the mystics searched for. It proves the existance of spirit within body.

So I watched her just 'be' for a little while. I envied her talent, I envied where she was at that moment. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that I go there too, some times. I know what it is to discover both my uniqueness and my equality. I know what it is to touch the face of God.

From somewhere in the real world, a bell rang. Her pencil for a moment paused, then was set down. She pulled a phone from her pocket and answered.

She smiled when she heard the voice on the other end. Then she said, "No, I'm not doing anything."


Belinda said...

Wow, what a beautiful description of a fascinating woman and an artist at work; and written by an artist at work.

Anonymous said...

I love this post Dave!
Reminds me of my moments just like you described.

My son arrived three weeks early and spent three weeks in the Special care unit at our local maternity hospital. He weighted 3 lbs 13 ozs and was diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
The seperation left a very large hole inside me....I ached to hold him, to be with him, to surround him with physical love!
When he came home to me I experienced a few of those precious moment when Robert was just lying on my chest.
Words can't described it like you said Dave! It was like pure love radiating from my son to me,nothing else matter in this moment except that love, it enveloped us like a invisible cloak!
Robert went off to primary school today. This memory five years later and today of all day is wonderful....thanks for reminding me Dave!

Love LinMac (Linda)

Brad said...

I love watching creative people at work, I'm more methodical and analytical, so seeing creativity is facinating. My wife & I watch a lot of TV that shows creativity. Top Chef, Project Runway, etc...

Andrea S. said...

Not related to this post,

But I thought you might like hearing about a novel I recently finished reading that has a character with what seems meant to be a cleft mouth, with the associated speech impairments. This novel is set back in the middle ages, so this girl does not have surgery for it, and she faces the usual superstitions of the time (assumptions that her "disfigurement" is the result of a devil's curse, that she brings bad luck, etc)

The novel is "Crispin at the Edge of the World" by Avi. (The author just goes by the pen name Avi, no other name) It is a sequel to an earlier book, "Crispin: the Cross of Lead" but the character, Troth, does not appear in the earlier book. The main character meets Troth and is at first discomforted by her Pagan religion (which she was raised in by the mid wife who had raised her from birth) and by her appearance. But later he comes to think of her as a sister.

If you ever do another "book club" discussion, this could be one book to consider. There is a "reader's companion" to this at the publisher's website, that has some suggested discussion questions in it. Unfortunately, none of them really refer to Troth's speech impairment, only obliquely to her "disfigurement." Which is a shame because I think the evolution in Crispin's attitude toward the girl, and the attitudes of other major and minor characters throughout the novel to Troth, tie in well to some of the other general themes of the book.

Anonymous said...

Transcendental, it is...
As a musician who uses a wheelchair, I can tell you truthfully that the artist's rapture is profound. I'll bet Mayday and Wheelchair Dancer and Dave Hingsburger and most everybody in the world would agree.

Great post! Again!

Kristin said...

Wow...but remember Dave, you are an artist. Your medium just happens to be words.

FridaWrites said...

Dave, this is a great post. So many times people misunderstand our lives or what we feel (someone yesterday said they thought I felt sorry for myself because of my disability--uh, never!; that's just not the way I live or approach disability). Your description of this woman perfectly matches someone who has osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). To me I notice people with OI as easily as you notice Down's syndrome since it's one of the diagnoses some doctors think I have (I do have very fragile bones).

liz said...


Wren said...

What a beautiful post this was. The woman's talent, your talent, the world busying on around you both -- you given us a gift, a look into your own, wise and gentle mind. Thank you.