Write Walk

Walking the Talk & Writing the Walk

 

Fall Epiphany


The insulation of a fall jacket wasn’t quite enough to keep the bite in the air from delivering a chill to the skin.  But Jenny and I were going to be raking leaves so it wouldn’t be long before the heat of activity had moved through us, into our fingers and toes, warming us from the inside.


It was late autumn and the high winds of the season had blown most of the leaves off of the trees. There was a thick carpet of red and yellow foliage that covered the back garden. The few places where any grass could be seen showed brown and brittle from the previous night’s frost. 


In the mudroom, as we got ready to go outside, our sluggish movements and silence betrayed the apathy that we both felt. Raking leaves was the last thing either of us wanted to do.


Jenny and I lived together.


We lived in an agricultural community for developmentally delayed people in Upstate New York.


I was in my 30s, still finding my way.  Filled with idealism, passionate about making the world a better place, but learning how to walk it out in a real-life setting. 


Jenny was a youthful twenty-something whose personality bounced in a similar way as the ponytail that sat high on her head. She had thick glasses that constantly slipped down the bridge of her nose that she forever had to push back into place. Her laugh was infectious, devilish even though her heart was warm with melting affection.


I loved her.


But I also feared her.


She was prone to angry outbursts that sometimes turned violent, and whenever I was around her, my body would tense, on guard, ready to react if she suddenly went off. And like most of the folks I worked with, it was almost impossible to keep Jenny on task for any period of time. 


As we trudged out to the back, rakes in hand, me dragging the faded blue tarp up the stairs to the garden, I began to psyche myself up for the chore before us, getting ready to motivate both Jenny and me to finish the job.


Half-way through raking, I looked up to see that I had done most of the work on my own. A wave of frustration that had been building since we began seemed to break. Here I was constantly reminding this woman, encouraging this woman, to ‘help me’ do the job that we both needed to do, and still, she was just standing there, AGAIN, rake limp in hand, looking at —now biting— the cuticles of her right hand. 


This was impossible.


The tropical storm of indignation that had been brewing now erupted into an internal rant of hurricane proportions,  “I am doing all of the work around here, work that I don’t even WANT to do.”


And then I looked at Jenny in her rose-colored fall jacket, looked at her ponytail and thick glasses, has she munched on her cuticles, and a whole new idea was presented to me.


“She’s giving you a gift,” said the still small voice within.


“Pardon me?”


“Don’t you see she is giving you a gift?”


No, I didn’t see this at all, as a matter of fact, I felt the complete opposite, Jenny was the reason that this job was still not done.


The thought continued, “If you were out here on your own, you would have accomplished only a fraction of what you have done. Jenny may not be doing as much as you would like her to do, but she is giving you the energy to do more, just by standing beside you.”


“Her very presence is providing you with the physical motivation you need to continue.”


“Jenny is also giving you the opportunity to experience taking the lead. By occupying the weaker position, Jenny is allowing you to see your strength. In your humanity, you are equal, but by being your subordinate, she is helping you experience being the best, the strongest, the most capable in this moment, even if it is just raking leaves. Just by being with you, she is making your job easier, not to mention she is helping you complete this task!”


I looked over at Jenny; she didn’t want to be here either, that was clear. But she was here, and because she was, I was doing more than I would have done if I were alone.


I had never noticed this before.


In the past, when working with others, if I thought I was doing more than they were, a huge wave of resentment and arrogant pride would settle over me for being the one that had to do it all. But as I stood holding my rake up under my chin, feeling a blister beginning to form in the fold of skin between my thumb and index finger, as I looked at Jenny, I realized she was helping me get the job done. 


Before this realization, I sincerely believed that I valued people’s differing abilities, but when it came time to completing a task, I desired to work with someone who worked like me.


As I stood there watching Jenny, memories of being on the other side of this dynamic, which I recollected as being equally as irritating, came rushing back to me. 


The side where my presence, rather than my physical efforts, were what was needed by another.


A particular image came to mind of a friend. 


Whenever we made plans to do something, Jill would inevitably insist on doing half a dozen things around the house just before we were scheduled to walk out the door. A flaw that frustrated me beyond belief.


For years, I had secretly judged her, thinking her time management skills abysmal, harshly accusing her under my breath of being selfish. In those moments, I felt like she wasn’t respecting my time, but here, now, standing in the back garden with Jenny, it began to dawn on me that Jill’s motivation was not coming from an entirely selfish place. Although the tasks were simple enough for her to complete on her own, she needed the encouragement of my physical proximity, my energy, my just being there, to follow through and complete them.  


She had needed me, the way I needed Jenny now.


Not so much to do anything, but just to be there.


In a world obsessed with physical results, LARGE concrete results, these subtleties of help and support, so nuanced and delicate, had escaped my awareness.


I never knew…


I felt myself being pulled out of my reverie, back into the present moment, as my eyes came back into focus and came to rest on Jenny’s inert stance.


It was STILL frustrating watching her just stand there!


My mind’s need to see tangible results was having difficulty accepting what the deeper part of me knew to be true.


Jenny really was giving me the help I needed.


She wasn’t just standing there.


I sighed audibly.


‘Grrrrr.’


“FINE!!!!” I said in a half shout. 


Jenny looked up from her cuticles, her face showing surprise at the break in silence.


I asked Jenny to start raking again, as I began to move my rake in a quick sweeping motion. When we finished, Jenny helped carry the full tarp of crunchy leaves to the tiny forest that bordered the backyard’s boundary. We then put the garden tools away and began to walk back to the house.


“Should we have a cookie, Jenny?” I asked.


Jenny responded through her irresistible giggle and accompanying snort, “But of course, Susan.”



The Sunlight Press first published this article online, January 1, 2017.

https://www.thesunlightpress.com/2017/01/01/fall-epiphany/

Photo credit: Ronaldo de-Oliveira of Unsplash


Django


I move through my world as if underwater. My ears are full of the thick pressure of silence. 


The sound of my family’s voices are gone to me now. The peels of laughter from Rowan and Renna, sounds of their exuberant delight, have been hushed. I must confess, I do not miss the shrill screeching of their play. The sound of conversations between my Lady and Master has also been muted. Those in the early evening were what I liked best, as she stood at the kitchen counter making supper, and he poured glasses of milk. I remember their words to each other were warm like the kitchen. Even now, letting my nose guide me, I stay close during their evening meetings, knowing my food bowl will be filled soon. 


I miss listening to their conversations. 


I feel the loss of my Lady’s whispers too, where her lips quietly spoke into my floppy ears as she stroked my round flank. So tender was her voice, reassuring, and full of affection. 


It’s dark; it’s also so dark.


When blindness took away my sight, I would try to open my eyes as wide as I could, and then try to open them wider still, hoping to see again, even just a little. Light left gradually. And as it did my world shrank, smaller and smaller. Shadow replaced vibrant color, taking away the sharp focus of external shapes, leaving a blurry haze of uncertain images. 


My movements became timid and wobbly. 


And now I walk around the room like a drunken sailor or one of those Roombas––a robotic vacuum, gingerly inching around every corner, where a landmine of things to trip on lurk or a bonk on the head awaits. I don’t remember the floor moving when I could see, but it seems to do so now and makes me dizzy even though everything is black. Often I just stand still in the middle of the room. First, trying to sense where to step next, then feeling too disoriented to move further, choosing to lie down instead where I feel the solid floor beneath. Its cool strength holds me, allowing me to be part of it all, included in my home’s busyness, while still feeling the ground.


But I still love to walk. 


Despite the uncertainty, I love to move my legs, feel the surface of the floor or the soft grass against the pads of my paws, feel the evening air move through my fur and under my belly. I know my Master and Lady stand closer to me when I’m on the move. Knowing they’re so close makes me brave and keeps me curious.


Walking reminds me of how good it feels to be alive.



In the nothingness, there is still so much. 



And I am happy.


Even my sniffer doesn’t work so well anymore. The congestion in my lungs brings mucous to my small, pushed-in nose and makes inhaling difficult. I snuffle, and I snorffle as I do my best to breathe. 


My tongue has gotten in the way too. It had always stuck out a little bit, even when I was small, but as I find breathing more challenging my mouth’s resting position is now wide open, my tongue protruding, thick and sandpaper dry.  Because it is always in the air, deep pathways have formed, cracked crevices that look like a waterway system. The irony is it is the absence of moisture that has formed them. But I can still smell the sweet scent of my Lady approaching. It’s faint, but it lets me know she close by or is coming to me.


However, it is touch that has become my most loyal and dependable sense.


I know my people’s hands. The children’s, trying so hard to be gentle, succeeding sometimes, rough and tumble others; I utter a necessary warning growl to remind them to be careful. My Master’s hands. Bigger. But he still loves me softly; his hands are old friends that I’ve known all of my life. What a kind gentle-man is he. And then there’s my Lady’s. She coos love through her fingertips and cradles me over her shoulder like her baby because I am.  Her touch feeds me with its reassurance and care. It reminds me that I am safe, that I am home. 


Her hands are my timekeeper too, for it is her touch that carries me to my soft bed at night. And shows me my full bowl of breakfast in the morning. And how I love to eat. Mealtimes are some of my greatest pleasures. I eat LOUD; smacking and snorting, because I have to hold my breath as I chew. But how I adore my food!  And then when my meal is finished, and my tummy is full, my Lady comes to me once more with her soft, caring hands taking me to my water bowl. Her fingers wet with its water are brought to my parched tongue to let me know that it is time to drink. 


I am loved.


I am deaf. I am blind. I often can hardly breathe.


But my life is full.


Big Love holds me in its sweet hands.


I am apart of something bigger than my infirmity; I belong to my family, and they belong to me.




 


Write Walk


Walking the Talk

&

Writing the Walk


by

Susan Cruickshank


Susan Cruickshank is a dual citizen who spends half her time living in Vermont, while making her home base in Ontario, Canada.


She is growing her freelance writing

—Vermont Views Magazine

The Sunlight Press—

while chipping away at her first book, a memoir.


You can find her on Facebook:

 https://www.facebook.com/LivingANewFuture/

and Twitter:

Susan Cruickshank @LivingANewFutur


READ PAST ARTICLES

IN THE ARCHIVE

HERE