How We Survive the Winter

“Good work, Randy,” I say to my dog. We tiptoe down the icy steps. I’ve got Randy’s leash in one hand, the elbow of the paratransit driver in the other and my laptop on my back. “Good work, Randy.”

“Randy’s your dog?” The driver chuckles. “That’s my name too. All this time, I thought you were talking to me.”

Together, we slip and slide and walk and ride to work and home from work. And that’s how we get through this winter in one piece.

I figure the 120 or so miles I’ve ridden rather than walked saved me from frostbite and hip fractures. And I consider my choice to use paratransit a sign of maturity. Used to be, I’d walk through a blinding snowstorm just to prove something silly about blindness. But I turn 64 this week and I need to act my age.

Paratransit used to be a sign of weakness. Today, I’m more practical, less prideful. I like door to door. I like three bucks a pop. Sure, I could ride the city bus. But it’s twelve blocks to and from the bus stop. A lot of bad can happen in twelve blocks. Fall down and hurt yourself and in no time you’re frozen to death and covered in snow. Chicago got seven feet this winter. I figure I moved 30,000 pounds of it off my sidewalk. No wonder my back aches. But I’m not laid up in a body cast or hobbled with half my toes frozen off.

The downside of riding: Randy (the dog) and I put on five pounds each. But it’s springtime and we’re walking again. We’ll shed the weight in no time. The weather’s dry and the track’s fast. Just steer clear of the potholes. Good work, Randy!

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Why Not Me?

Hear the clarion call from Chicago radio: “Strap on your helmet, slip into Spandex and Bike the Drive!”

Lake Shore Drive closed to cars and open to bicycles for one gloriously clear, cool Sunday morning. Here’s the vision—me on my ten-speed, Lake Michigan blue and sparkly, the Drake Hotel in my sights. Here’s the feeling—grip the handlebars, lean into the turn, pump the pedals.

Then I hit the pothole. Reality check. My vision fractured, blinded and grounded, sidelined and heartsick. Why me, oh, why me?

For years into vision loss, “Why me?” was my last word. Self-pity translated “Why me?” to “Poor me.” Victimhood dictated that active became passive, involved became isolated, with became without. Bike the Drive rode from real to imagined, lacking everything except frustration.

Resilience is a measure of recovery. Coping is finding new ways to do old things. For Bike the Drive, friends partner with sighted pilots on tandem bikes. That works for them, but rings hollow to me. Like taking your sister to the prom, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing.

So, I’m staying on the sidelines again this year. But I’m not acting the self-pitying victim, without choice, without hope. I’ve made my decision not from fear and resentment, but from respect for my quality of life. This is huge, this power to choose how to meet my needs. I have the freedom to say no rather than have it said to me and for me.

I am reframing “Why me?” into “Why not me?” And I say this from a place of abundance rather than deprivation. My life is full with purpose. Time and acceptance have granted me the balance to bounce back from disappointment, feel the loss and go on. Maybe not on a ten-speed or a tandem, but go on nonetheless.

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March Madness

Every time I press the power button on the remote, something different happens on the TV.  To claim that I enjoy the variety would be a face-saving rationalization.  I have enough spice in my life.  Need proof?  Listen to Samuel Clemens: “Blindness is an exciting business.  If you don’t believe it, get up some dark night on the wrong side of your bed when the house is on fire, and try to find the door.”  But I needn’t go to extremes.  Who needs a house fire when you’ve got a remote control?

All I wanted was to watch a little March Madness.  Sheesh!  You call this leisure?  And I’m not even testing the limits here.  Tivo remains a foreign phrase.  And descriptive audio, the legislated leveler of the TV playing field, lies somewhere beyond the mythical SAP button, in my techno Never Never Land.

Technological should be logical.  Garbage in, garbage out.  One or zero.  Yes or no.  Logic would say that if I do the same thing, like pressing the power button, I should get the same result, like the TV coming on.  I feel betrayed when what “should” happen doesn’t happen.

Predictability soothes me.  I like the flow of “if…then” statements.  Conventional wisdom defines insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Usually, this maxim refers to problematic behavior, like betting on long shots, and expecting them to win.  But I don’t consider March Madness problematic. 

By doing my same thing and getting different results, have I proven insanity, either theoretically or my very own?  Feels like it.  Perhaps my lesson is to avoid mixing technology with psychology.  Maybe I should just stick to basketball.  Let’s see.  If I pick all 68 winners, Warren Buffett will give me a billion dollars.  Hmmm, I like the odds.

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A Cold Winter’s Night

When the Polar Vortex hits, our menagerie migrates to our marital bed.  Two adults, two cats and a big, black dog having a sleepover, bundled in the 320-watt, dual-control electric blanket.  I ask my wife, “Hot enough for you, Honey?”

Hmmm, hrumph.”

“Speak up, Dear, you’re all muffled.”

“Hahee hah hmy heh,” says my wife.  She’s saying, “Harvey’s on my head,” Harvey being our elderly, uninsulated cat.

Mulligan, our fifteen-pounder, climbs atop me and starts doing that front paw push thing cats do when they’re feeling connected.  I lift him off my bladder and place him on my wife.  “Mulligan will give you a back rub, Dear.”

“Phayn hoo, muhhuggun.”

“Has he found that really sore spot, Honey?”

“A lihhull lohuh, pleahh.”  I move Mulligan down a few inches.

On the outer rim of the bed, side by side with my wife, Randy the dog gives himself a Saturday night lick bath.  Slurp, smack, snort, sigh.  His head plops down.  He’s out.

The animals flock to my wife’s side of the bed because it’s toasty over there.  My side has no warmth.  I press the power button.  A light’s supposed to come on, but I can’t see it if it does.  I press the Hot button a few times.  In a while, I’ll either still be cold or be poached.  Then I’ll press the buttons some more until I get it right.

The Polar Vortex settles on my side of our marital bed.  My wife sleeps.  Harvey snores lightly.  Mulligan splays out.  Randy chases the rabbit of his dreams.  I lie awake and wait for the blanket to do whatever it’s going to do.  I hope to fall asleep soon.  Sleep does not come easily tonight.  I’d count sheep but the bed’s full as it is.

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Sometimes, I feel so alone. Sometimes, I just can’t stand it. This disease, this insidious disease called RP is destroying my eyesight. Genetics and time are conspiring in this agonizing process. RP is killing innocent cells, rendering them useless. Even as I am seeking sunlight, RP is building darkness. I feel I am living in a house divided.

Suffering is inevitable; suffering alone is intolerable. Any damage RP inflicts is compounded by my own malpractice. When I believe the heresy of self-reliance, I am blocking my greatest source of aid. When I shrink my world into one safe, secure corner, I am denying the truth that a problem shared is halved. When I buy into the notion that God does not burden me with anything I cannot handle, I am shamed by what I perceive to be lacking in me. I am never so alone as when I am alone with my vision loss. I am never so flawed as when I am an army of one.

We live in the shelter of one another. Any assertion otherwise shows a lack of faith. What I cannot handle myself, I take to the group. This group may be a power, a concept, an ethereal being. Or it may be Jim and Pam and Jane and Stella and Judy and Kathy. Whatever or whoever it is, it is the winning side. It is the object of the seeming paradox that to surrender is to join the winners.

RP tells me that venturing outside myself tempts the dangers of the unknown. If I believe this lie, I am doomed to isolation and loneliness. Whenever I feel apart from, I make life difficult. When I become a part of, I am rewarded. A kindred spirit, an emotional attachment are my keys to coping.

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Differences Between People and Dogs

People like to ascribe human qualities to animals. I’m often asked, “Doesn’t Randy get tired of eating only dog food?” The reply that comes to mind is, “How should I know? He’s a dog.” But I stop short of snarkiness. It’s a bona fide question, since I choose to feed my Seeing Eye dog only dry kibble. Granted, he supplements his diet with whatever he can scarf off the street or under the dining table. He’s a Lab; food is his calling. Some dogs are bomb-sniffing, others are drug-sniffing. Randy is food-sniffing. Certainly, Randy would like variety. But variations from his food plan produce epic gastrointestinal thunderstorms. So, when someone asks, “Would Randy like some bacon?” I reply, “Would you like to clean up after it?” That usually brings that line of inquiry to a close.

“Doesn’t Randy get bored on long car trips?” is another query for which I have no inside dope. He hasn’t demanded a Play Station. When I was a kid, my brother and I played backseat games like License Plate Bingo. Randy does not require a line item for entertainment in the vacation budget. He checks the back seat for leftovers, then lies down and sleeps. After a while, he turns over. We don’t let him stick his head out the window. Eventually, we arrive at our destination.

“Randy must not like it when the bus is so crowded.” I have a sure rebuttal to this one. Randy loves people. He loves people at close quarters. He sits amid standing passengers. They pat his head and tell him he’s handsome. He gets to know them. He learns about them. He looks, he pokes, he prods, he sniffs. One woman giggled, “This dog knows more about me than my husband does.” That’s when I said, “Down, Randy, down. We don’t want to blur any boundaries here, do we?”

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Fearing the (Gun-Toting) blind

While I’m walking to work with my Seeing Eye dog, this guy behind me muttering gibberish lifts my laptop bag off my back and  lets it fall, like it’s a door knocker.  “You stop that!” I shout.  We face off.  I’m hoping my fierce visage intimidates him.  Or the aggressive tail-wagging of my big black Lab strikes fear.  Finally, the man shuffles away, mumbling.

Which brings me to the subject of personal protection.  Fifty years ago, blind bluesman Reverend Gary Davis packed a .38 he called “Miss Ready.”  “If I can hear it,” said the Reverend, “I can shoot it.”  In our new millennium, debate rages about issuing gun permits to blind people. 

One faction contends that arming the blind is the height of folly.  They claim blind people are unsafe to begin with, let alone toting guns.  They say blind people can’t shoot straight, that blind gunmen would give drive-by shootings an unacceptable level of risk.

Another faction embodies the American principle of government by laws, not men.  They espouse a hybrid of the Second Amendment and the ADA.  The right to bear arms meets the rights of the disabled. 

Personally, I am glad my encounter did not end up with either of us in the crosshairs.  I believe mayhem was averted by keeping the stakes low.  To me, pulling a gun is fear compounded.  How easily the license to carry becomes the license to shoot.  Just ask the Reverend Mr. Davis and his sidekick, Miss Ready.

Call me a dreamer, but imagine if people did not feel the need to pack a six-shooter. That line worked for John Lennon until a mumbling man shot him dead.  We do not need more fear in general nor another reason to fear the blind in particular.  I’m out to prove the law of attraction and I prefer a happy ending.

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