My 65th birthday taught me something, or maybe it’s better to say, it caused me to focus on something that has always been just slightly out of my view. I’m still working out the implications for my work and for my life. Yeah, it was kind of big for me. Let me tell you what happened.
I’ve been unwell, really unwell, for a week now. I should have gone to the doctor earlier, but I didn’t. So as my birthday approached, I was feeling really tired. Tired from coughing. Tired from lousy sleeps because of coughing. Tired enough to make everything, including things I like, seem burdensome. Even celebrating my birthday, which I had looked forward to, seemed like work to me.
But plans had been made. It wasn’t going to be a big deal but it was going to be fun, and delicious. The girls and their mom were coming over and they, along with Joe, would make a huge batch of pancakes. Half blue berry and half chocolate chip, I was on the blueberry list, I’ll leave you to guess who was on the chocolate chip list.
When they arrived I had moved from mys spot in my wheelchair here at the computer over to my big chair in the front room. Joe and I had been watching television and when the doorbell rang, he got up and when the door opened the noise began. It was happy noise. It was ‘we’re here’ noise. It was welcomed noise. In they came to the front room and the first of many ‘Happy Birthdays’ was wished. We all talked together for a few minutes and then it was time for the kitchen.
Ruby and Sadie followed Joe to the kitchen and soon pancakes were underway. Marissa stayed and talked with me a bit and then, coming to a call from the kitchen, she went along to check on the progress and see what she could do for help. This left me alone. The room was darkened, purposely, so the Christmas lights could do their job of making the place seem warm and welcoming.
I took the moment alone to push back in my big, soft chair, and close my eyes. I could feel the warmth from the heater, I could smell the pancakes cooking, I could here the gentle sound of industrious children excited to be doing something for someone else. I could hear the sound of all of their voices, a soft symphony of instruments all perfectly tuned.
And I felt loved.
I felt embraced.
I felt hugged.
But more than that, much more than that, the sounds and the smells and the warmth combined with the weaving wonderful sound of voices in harmony with each other, I felt safe. Completely and utterly safe.
I seldom feel safe.
But there I sat, just a bit apart hearing the world around me and knowing that in no dark corner of my house, in no dark corner of anyone’s mind, lurked danger. No one would hurt me tonight. I felt that. I knew that deep down inside me.
I rarely to never feel completely safe. As a person who lives at many intersections regarding disability, and sexuality and weight I am easy prey for a wide segment of the population and I have often shrunk deep down inside my body, hidden myself away, making who I am seem to be what they see and knowing that they are wrong. This is how I protect myself.
But I could rise up from that hidden place. I could inhabit all of my body and all of my differences because they are known here, yes, but they are cherished here as well. No one here would wish me different.
I was safe.
The next day I began to think of the people we serve who have significant disabilities, who are often those who experience life from other rooms of awareness. Who hear sounds. Who hear voices. Who smell smells. Who experience welcome though senses and through a lifetime of learning. Their mental age is the chronological age, people learn from the lives they live and should be respected for who they have come and how they have managed to survive.
Can we create moments where people who may seldom feel safe, completely and totally, in their body and in their mind and in their soul safe?
How do we do that?
How do we use what’s at hand to create at first moments and then, perhaps even, lifetimes of feeling safe, and warm and welcome? How do we make it safe for people to rise up and live fully in their body, fully in their world?
I think the answer is easy.
As easy as the smell of blueberry and chocolate pancakes.
As easy as warm lighting.
As easy as the soft sound of voices around them.
As easy as the taste of something sweet.