Following The Medicine

Winter_SunsetIt’s New Years Eve and I’m watching flurries come in off the lake, coat the trees, then give way to periods of sun and scattered cloud. Beautiful! Also cold; it’s in the teens Fahrenheit. Not real comfortable out, especially in the shade and breeze.

I’m thinking about the changing year, and the way some things seem to stay the same.  Yesterday, a poet acquaintance of mine sent along a poem that set me to thinking about stereotyping and fear, certainly themes this year in North America. Sadly, the poem was written in 1995, yet could have been penned yesterday. Reading the poem, it occurred to me that we may benefit from considering what makes us uncomfortable. I get the sense that the New Age sees The Medicine and those who work with it as all about comfort and optimism. Yet often The Medicine points us in the direction of that which is repressed and rejected, suggesting meaning and  joy may be found in that which is feared, rejected, or erased.

This morning I’ve heard from a friend and a relative about cancer. Scary stuff, eh? I’m aging so I encounter serious illness more often. Yet one of those who wrote this morning had cancer in her twenties. One of my college friends had cancer as a child. She was ashamed of her body as there were many scars where her lymph nodes were removed. She was a brilliant flutist who could not imagine much of a future, the cancer always a risk to return. We shared a deep, if largely unspoken, bond, as I also carried a sense of foreshortened life and the imminent return of Polio. That similarity also kept us apart; it was too painful to share so much anxiety about the future.

Since reading Erren’s poem I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety and discomfort, and the way my Polio body affects some folks. (For a long, long, time I was terrified of other disabled people.)  I’ve often had the sense that folks are frightened of me; maybe they still think I’m contagious. Perhaps I remind them of their vulnerability. Then again, maybe we are just hard-wired to fear contagion and to avoid it. Or maybe we just struggle with difference. (We live, after all, in a culture that knows “race” does not exist as such, and can’t talk about it!)

Having a Polio body, a body marked by difference, carries more than a little shame for me, as for many Polios. I guess it is almost impossible not to internalize that normative gaze that defines us cripples as Other. Yet The Medicine insists that those whose lives are influenced by difference carry crucial information about the sacred. Maybe our Indian holy places do the same. I wonder whether the wholesale destruction of Native sacred sites is a hidden war against the discomfort that can come with paying attention to The Medicine, and the history of the Others who carry it.  It’s a conundrum.

So here is the poem. My gratitude to Erren Kelly for sharing it.

on the bus

a white woman

stands rather than
sits
she is a lost star
in a sea of black
faces

she clutches her groceries
never looking back
if she could
she’d grow eyes out
of the back of her
head

a black boy and his wannabe black
white friend walk by her yelling
” that lady scared to sit
with black people”

she then sits next
to a black boy
as if to prove she’s
not afraid

it is amazing how
fear selects  its
victims:

a white woman who is my
closest friend
edits my poetry books
and invites me to
eat in her home

another is my neighbor
she keeps her doors and
windows locked

and i always feel funny
when she and her hippie friends
invite me
over to have beer or party
with them

another white woman
send me her poetry
but won’t see me

what could i have
done
to cause her to
fear me
like the woman on the bus
who clutches
her purse
who watches her
groceries

like a lioness protecting
her cubs

erren geraud kelly/ 1995

Here’s another poem and a brief bio by way of Rays Road Review.

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17 thoughts on “Following The Medicine

  1. This is such a moving post. Both the post and the poem show (to me) the importance of conversation, sharing and opening up about difference, so that it doesn’t become a barrier between us. It shows me that the very worst part of communication is the belief that we cannot communicate at all.

  2. this is to do with narratives we grow up with…they tell us whom to include and the rest is excluded promptly….the narratives lead us to inclusion as well as exclusion. a slight gesture from a loved one forms our perspective….

    • Indira, I suspect there is more to it, although the narratives are certainly crucial. In the US, there are dueling narratives of inclusion and exclusion. This makes an for an increasingly ugly atmosphere, with ever increasing fear. The fear narratives have a long history in the US. Hard to know when they took root, yet they have been used against Native people, Africans, new immigrants, the poor, the disabled, women….. There are also counter narratives that challenge the fear, but increasingly they get little attention. I firmly believe that as families we can introduce more useful narratives into the lives of our children and grandchildren, and as teachers and healers we can offer them to those we meet each day. Good stories that support inclusion are certainly much needed today.Blessings.

  3. This writing gives me food for thought. Of course all your communication serves this purpose. This thought about being afraid to be seen……I’ve just recently been contemplating this. I realized that I don’t like to appear as the disabled or crippled woman. Now if I face down this fear what wonderful horizons present? I’m just going to really see this fear. Anything could happen. I wish you a new year full of joy and peace Michael.

    • HI Gretchen, I hate being the focus of that disabling gaze. It is so challenging for me to be myself in the face of that withering gaze. Yet, what else can one do? We keep working our lives. I’m curious about how we migh continue to broaden those horizons, and honored to have such courageous company on the road.

  4. Thank you for the courage of sharing this story of yours to us. I really find it very inspiring and it’s just really heartfelt.I wish you always to have a healthy body. Well, I say don’t worry about difference, sometimes, we over-think about it while others really didn’t see or care at all.. Cheers to a happy new year!

    • Thank you, John. Yes, sometimes we do over think difference. Yet here in the US difference is increasingly an explosive issue. Traveling around the world I find some cultures to be more accepting and inclusive than others. I guess that’s inevitable, eh? What is your experience of this in the Philippines?

      • Well, the same here in my country it’s just that people here now are more of open minded than before. Time changes and so their beliefs.Many of us are now keen on seeing the beauty behind every person no matter how different they are. But yes, there will always be “some ” who would think the opposite and that’s, according to what you have said, inevitable. Well, we need not to be ashamed being different as long as we show nobility and that’s the thing that matters.

  5. I find it important to be open-minded when I meet new souls. Up to how they are acting, I will react.
    I live as expat in Spain and here people are very friendly in their acting but very difficult to get closer to in private.
    In Denmark where I come from, people are more closed when you are a stranger. There have been too many fights between different groups, which make it more difficult for strangers to come close to Danish people. They need to show their good intentions to be accepted. And keep their religion for their private lives.
    Here in Spain I see many nationalities work together without problems. There are also here few, who destroy it for the others. Like today when I was out shopping groceries and a gipsy went to walk around at the parking place and beg all for money and get mad, when she did not receive any. There are one big family there as exchange the begging places around the supermarkets in the city. If they were poor and asked for help, I would help them myself but no, they walk around in very old and used clothe when they beg and something very new is you see them in private clothe. This destroy helping peoples minding about help.
    We have many really poor people here caused the crise and those I do help.
    There are many ways to support other souls and a smile could be a good start.
    Thanks for sharing this very good post Michael 😉

    • Thanks, Irene! Yes, individuals and groups can act in ways that bring harm to others, and themselves. Of course, people often use those actions to overgeneralize and give reason to discriminate against groups of people. All that said, I, too, try to be open and let people show me who they may truly be.

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