Strange days. I resent the few appointments I have. Today: book publicist, computer consultant, men’s group. Yet with the 9 AM departure of Lorna, chief among the morning helpers on Team Filipina, the balance of the day looks frighteningly blank. What am I to do now, this yawning moment all emptiness and uncertainty? Well, I could prepare for the phone chat with the publicist. Or I could head to Peet’s. For there is nothing like caffeination except more caffeination. So, Caffeine Nation, here I come.
But not without misgivings. I mean, why now? Why not get the cappuccino boost going a little later, after I have talked to the publicist, and it is time for this stage of things, the blog? Why sort of waste it? After all, the morning phone meeting will hardly find me sleeping. And nothing like that caffeinated spark to the creative impulse, is there? Oh, forget it. Honestly, who knows why anyone does anything? But the point is that on these, my self-created work days, one builds the experience moment by moment. And in this particular moment, flying down Live Oak Ave…the sense of flying at a battery-powered five miles per hour being rather subjective…Peet’s seems as good as anything.
Actually, it proves to be almost too much. Peet’s is not full of people – half the tables are empty – but it is full of the right kind of people, my friends. There’s the other Paul whom I run into there, the guy who often sits by the door. I say hello briefly, my greeting interrupted by Josh, son of an old and deceased friend. And before you know it, I am placing my order with the barista who strangely knows my name…and must be complimented for his extraordinary memory. But he smiles and simply says that I am a star now, an author celebrated in the Menlo Park Almanac…I attempt to shrug my half-paralyzed shoulders, mutter something like shucks. And feel good. Seconds later, Josh, his girlfriend and I are all working our respective ways through cappuccinos and lattes. And I am what? Enlivened by a chemical or the knowledge that I really am part of a larger human world? Not unloved. Nor forgotten.
Nor have I quite forgotten my own picture in the Menlo Park Almanac just a couple of weeks ago. The feature described me as a ‘familiar’ presence in our suburban downtown. What the photo reveals is something else. That I am older and grayer than expected. Definitely more hunched, my shoulders having collapsed in ways my physical therapist has long predicted. And my wheelchair is enormous, a mechanism that seems to overwhelm its occupant. Me, the familiar sight. Aging, bent and encased by steel. What did I expect? And why do I care?
I have cared always, that is the simple fact. In the years after my injury when confronted with my body and its appearance, all I could feel was shame. How could I have come to this? It is fatiguing, this awareness, so I learned to tamp down the nagging sense of physical oddity…in favor of odyssey. Mine, the life of travel. Sometimes six blocks, sometimes 6000 miles. Motion and distraction and tomorrow and tomorrow. And now in my mid-60s with everything becoming more difficult, both travel and escape, what is there to do but come to peace with my own body?
While staying in touch, that is the other thing. Keeping the picture focused, while removing the sting. Slumping? Never mind the Hunchback of Notre Dame look, but don’t forget the consequences. Not good for one’s intercostals, more than one physical medicine type has warned me. To keep breathing, keep upright. And don’t get all bent out of shape. Particularly in the neck. Yes, it is odd to see the head so askew. But worse, it is uncomfortable. Know what’s important.
And borrow. A bit of this, a bit of that, and before you know it, you have a life. Take something from those old guys who stand up on veterans holidays leaning on their crutches or sitting up straight in their wheelchairs. Sure, they’ve got more dangling metals and clashing colors than you might like. But they have their pride. And the nation is officially, if only putatively, behind them. And for what it’s worth, they are behind each other. It is a form of okayness. Not mine perhaps, but still a form. A start, let us say. And let us not say too much about the air of condescension implicit in all this disabled veterans hoopla, particularly the fact that we keep sending our poorest. Then giving them the poorest treatment possible when it’s all over. Truly, never mind all that. It is the sitting up part, the standing up part, that matters. And yes, in between photo ops, it’s okay to slump.