New Years Eve; outside, a dramatic sunset. The weather has turned chilly and damp, almost seasonal, and there are finally a few inches of snow on the ground. This evening we will visit with friends, bringing in the New Year with games, food, and a good fire.
I began writing this in daylight and must turn on the lights in order to finish. The New Year comes about ten days after the solstice. By now, the days are perceptibly longer, and the sun, and the year, seem renewed. Even so, most nights darkness falls well before five.
We ran errands this morning, then came home. I had leftover pizza for lunch, a delicious return to the luscious dinner Jennie created last evening. Then, being cold, I wrapped up in an electric blanket and fell asleep. I slept off and on for most of the afternoon. I had planned to spend the afternoon in the studio, but never made it. One of the odd side affects of Post Polio is cold, and often heat, sensitivity. When the cold settles in my body aches, and just wants to hibernate.
I am aware that we are nearing the end of the Christmas season, a time focused on the body, on the act of incarnation. This season I have been appreciating this body, and its willingness to carry me through the world. I know this has not been easy for my body or my spirit. I can barely remember what it felt like to live in a body without paralysis, weakness, and pain. These few memories are felt mostly felt experiences of a body at ease with the world, a body that readily responded to my needs and desires, and the challenges and pleasures, of the world. Those experiences are both immediate and distant, grounded in days that are now removed from the present by more than sixty years. Still, they form the backdrop for my lived experience, for my understanding of incarnation.
One of my colleagues speaks to being “temporarily abled”, a state that is almost inevitably transitory. We live in a culture that worships the young, able body, and recoils in terror from the disabled one. Many times in my life I have imagined myself to be a ghost, vacillating between being visibly and shunned, and invisible and ignored. Perhaps being Native and disabled makes me doubly erased, a condition I can challenge in the studio, or by writing, as each allows a sort of visual passing; what is seen is a record of my activity, a record from which the immediacy of my body is largely absent.
There are times when, temporarily seeing myself as I imagine others see me, I find myself at war with this body. In such moments my disability becomes a burden, and all compassion, let alone gratitude, for it disappears. At such moments I forget that this “I” that I am owes everything to this body’s willingness, and determination, to continue.
I try to remind myself that incarnation is a great gift, a present only possible in a body. I also strive to remember that bodies do not disable us, other people create the conditions that disable us. This is not to say that our attitudes towards life are not also disabling. It is, however, an acknowledgement that disability is a condition imposed largely by the gaze and behaviors of others. The shame we feel arises from the dismissive responses of those around us, responses all to easily internalized as foundational truths about our being.
I believe the Christmas season is an evolving text about the relationship between embodied self and the wider world. It is an exploration of the deep reciprocity inherent in incarnation, and the moral imperatives implied in the gift of a body. We live via the breath and deaths of others. Our lives are inevitably relational, and our actions impacting innumerable others, whose movements through the world shape our lives. Christmas reminds us that the birth of each child, no matter the species, is a miracle, through which the world is renewed, and hope rekindled, and that our task in life is to nurture the potential of all beings, if only to care for our own.
As the days lengthen may we give thanks for the generosity of our bodies, and the tens of billions of beings, within and without, who sustain them. May we remember that we can do nothing without the aid of our unfathomably complex bodies, and that ideas of self-sufficiency are at root illusion. May we show compassion and gratitude to our bodies, and to all who share this life with us, even in those inevitable times when we find ourselves in keen conflict with them.
In this vein, let me acknowledge my debt to you, dear reader, for without your kind attention to my writing this venture would be a poor one indeed. I wish for you, and yours, a joyous and healthy New Year. May you find receptive audiences for your work and life, and find yourself held tightly and safely by love.