Where Oh Where Did My Little Blog Go?

Monday, August 24, 2009

In the Eyes of the Beholder...

The kids are off to school and I should be getting ready for work. This weekend has left me physically and emotionally drained... exhausted. There are days when I feel like I can't keep up... days when it seems I'm chasing a runaway train. On Saturday, the children's biological father picked them up to take them to their grandmother's house for the weekend. He shares a house with several roommates so when he spends any significant time with them, it's typically at his mother's place. She is not sympathetic to Cammie's plight, so when the children go to her house, Cammie stays home. It seems the woman would rather bury her head in the sand and pretend that she only has three grandchildren, than grow in understanding.

My heart breaks for Cammie. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be a child with the challenges that she faces each day. The boys typically come back from their grandmother's house with toys, clothes, and trinkets... gloating about "good times had by all"... so I find myself trying to compete... trying to give Cammie some palatable sweet memories that will wash away the bitterness and pain of isolation and rejection. What's most difficult, is that I desperately need some "me" time... time to myself that's not dominated by work demands, parenthood, transgender issues, or household responsibilities. I used to look forward to those rare occasions when the "X" would take the children so that I could have a moment of respite... time for introspection, rejuvination, and recovery. Embracing Cammie's gender identity has brought peace to her heart and mine... while simultaneously robbing me of some much needed simple pleasures.

This morning... I don't have the strength to do anything but sit alone with my thoughts... soaking up the silence of a deserted house like an aged sponge in the rain. At this very moment, a battle rages on inside my heart. I struggle to work through the helplessness that has become my constant companion. I have fought through frequent restless nights, accompanied by complete mental and physical exhaustion. There are days when I desperately wish the world were BLIND...

A few weeks ago while crossing the street in a crowd of people, I passed a blind man. As soon as we had reached the other side of the road, I heard a couple of ladies begin to discuss the tragedy of blindness. My thoughts were different. While their minds rushed to the devastating challenges presented by the absence of sight, I was thinking of all the amazing things this man could actually "see"... things that we often cannot, and for a moment... I envied him.

A blind man doesn't know if he's standing in the foyer of a mansion or on the floorboard of a rundown shack... all he "sees" is someone who cared enough to open the door...

A blind man doesn't know if he's riding in a Jaguar or a Pinto... all he "sees" is the generosity of the man who offered him a ride...

A blind man doesn't know if the person he's conversing with is transgender. He doesn't know if an individual is slender or obese, homely or attractive, gay or straight... all he "sees" is someone who took the time to speak.

This experience with my child has magnified the unfortunate truth... the realization that the eyes are the deceptors of the soul. Years ago, someone very special taught me this fundamental moral principle...

I had a beautiful experience while working as a home health nurse that refined my perspective of love, humanity, and something that I have internalized as the purpose of life. I was treating patients in North Birmingham. The census was down in my territory so I was cross-covering to meet productivity. Most of the nurses working for the agency refused assignments in the area because it was considered dangerous – heavily populated with inadequate economic resources. Unfortunately, where there’s poverty, there’s crime and where there’s crime, nurses are scarce – so when the census drops… guess where you land?

When I first began to cover the territory, I was paranoid! The best analogy would be the game, “which one of these things is not like the others” that they repeatedly played on Sesame Street when I was a kid. There I was, a naïve little white girl in a predominantly black neighborhood, wearing name brand clothes and driving an SUV. As I continued to work my new territory, I grew to love my assignments. Each patient that I had the opportunity to treat enriched my nursing experience and reminded me of the Savior’s love for all of us. The people in those communities lived humble lives and were desperately in need of medical treatment and education. The continuous expression of gratitude was overwhelming. They didn’t have much to share but were eager to share all they had. They would willingly open their homes and their hearts when they saw me coming and it wasn’t long before I realized the privileged opportunity in each assignment.

My favorite patient, and the one who always stands out in my mind, is Otis… I call him Odie. I don’t know why, but he changed my life. Otis is in his eighties. He’s a black man who was left paralyzed by a stroke. He can’t walk and has difficulty transferring so he sits in the same chair day in and day out watching Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Court TV, etc – you know… the visual garbage. He lives alone in a rundown little house with bare white walls and filthy tile flooring and his television sits on an egg crate by the window. He has an old couch and a “new” recliner that his family bought for him a couple of years ago (he’s so proud of it that he refuses to remove the tags, so they still hang from the side – in better condition than the chair itself). He has a couple of faded tattoos that seem to illustrate his adventurous spirit and a lazy eye that wanders the room during conversation. He keeps a urinal and a bucket by the chair that he uses during the day. He sits there every day, wearing nothing but boxer shorts, and smokes his cigarettes.

He and I had the funniest banter. He had a necrotic wound on his foot that I was treating that resulted from peripheral vascular disease and a consequential amputation so I’d hide his cigarettes and fuss at him about keeping his feet elevated. He’d spat right back about how I needed to learn to mind my own business. I’d insist that, as his nurse, it was my business. He’d holler at me about closing the door and I’d gripe about the crap he watched on TV. He was quick to point out when I was late and fuss if I didn’t stay long enough and I’d remind him that I had other patients. On one visit when I was about to leave, he said, “No wonder why that man of yours left!”

I finished his statement, “because he’s a fool… and I left him, remember?”

He argued, “No, I believe he must’ve left you – because you’re bossy… bossy!” Then he hollered at me to bring him a Pepsi from the fridge and I jumped at the opportunity to spin it around…

“Now who’s being bossy? I’m not your maid!”

Suddenly, he was quiet and in that moment everything seemed to change… the mood in the room took a marvelous shift from playful to sincere and he replied, “No… You’re my friend.” He was right… I gladly fetched the drink.

I have a great deal of love and respect for Otis. He’s genuine and sincere with a pure heart. I learned something profound that afternoon when I went to see a patient in Mountain Brook. From rags to riches, I made my way through the projects of North Birmingham to the neighborhood on the other side of the city that seemed a world away from where I had just been, where the houses that line the streets look like castles in comparison. I couldn’t help but reflect on the experiences of my day. I thought about the judgments of society and wondered how many people would take the time to get to know Otis if they met him on the street. Would I have taken the time? I thought about how much we miss in life when we forfeit the opportunity to seek out the worth of others.

I wonder what the Savior "sees" when he looks on us? How will he judge? What impresses him the most? I can't help but think… what if the world were blind? What if success in society was determined by the content of one’s heart, rather than one’s checking account? The world would be a very different place… Instead of aspiring for bigger and better “things”, people would have an aspiration to be just like Otis. It brings me peace at times like this to put life in perspective. It helps when I'm feeling overwhelmed by the challenges in my life to be able to reflect on my experience with Odie and remember what it’s all about. Otis has told me that I am a blessing in his life and, of course, I had to argue... “It’s the other way around”... Otis taught me how to sincerely "see". We are blessed with opportunities to "see" every day... the tough part is recognizing them.


  1. That's such a sweet story, and it is a good point. We are blessed with the gift of sight, and the intelligence to interpret what we see around us. But what do we use it for? To analyze and categorize? To judge? Everyone thinks people with less money than them aren't trying hard enough. That everyone with more money is arrogant, too lucky, selfish. People who come from a different culture, or otherwise value a different set of social norms, we look at as ignorant, or even evil.

    When it comes to gender and sexuality, again we are categorized into boxes, and heaven help if you are in one of the little boxes instead of the big majority box.

    Maybe instead of using our vision to see how much we are different, we should all be using it to look around for some common ground.

    I hope Cammie is doing great. I know its got to be hard, getting the cold shoulder from her biological Dad's family. Really though, when she is away, you shouldn't stress. There are 1000s of people who share Cammie's problem, and very, very few have the emotional strength to assert their gender identity at that age. Really, she is showing remarkable strength just by being herself; enough strength to face the family challenges she faces I bet. Maybe some day that family will cope. Its very natural to go through denial when confronted with transgenderism but no matter how stubborn and close minded someone is, in the long run, how can you not accept your own grand daughter?

    Don't let fear and stress rule your time while the kids are away. I learned long ago, that to meet my responsibilities at work and in life, I have to take care of myself. Sometimes we all make sacrifices to see to someone else's needs, but in the end, we have to be happy and at peace inside, to be a positive force in someone else's life for long .

    In short, we all need to think about ourselves sometimes if we are going to be our best.

    Kind Regards,

    Shandy Alexis

  2. How wonderful it sounds to live in "The Valley of the Blind." And how ironic that one must often be robbed of her or his sight in order to really see. Thanks for sharing. I always love reading your blog. :)

  3. Communication is such a vital part of life. I have deaf/dumb friends at church. Luckily, they are very gregarious types who are not shy about their disability. They are husband and wife. The wife will come up to you and try to communicate with you whether you want her to or not...lol. She once related something to me that I found to be profound. She wrote that being deaf is harder than being blind. When you are deaf it's so very hard to communicate with the public because very few know sign language. People will avoid you or give up trying to communicate with you when you are deaf. She said that when you are blind, you can still communicate very clearly because you can hear and speak. The world in not afraid to talk to a blind person because they feel anonymous...unseen...unjudged, just like you said.

    Odie sounds cool too. I can actually see the tags you mentioned, on the upper right hand corner of his easy chair...lol. What a character. :)Suzi

  4. I needed the warmth found in the depth of love poured out into this piece.

  5. I heart your blog too. A number of years ago I rode a bike everywhere. When most people my age where getting cars, I was still on a bike. In part by choice, in part by finances.

    I rode all year long, even in the snow.

    In one February snow, my bike was tied up outside the building getting covered in snow. A downstairs neighbor who was walking her dog decided to come up and suggest I bring the bike in. I thanked her and did so and we sat on the stairs talking for a while until she asked if I would like some tea. I thanked her and we went down to her apartment where the conversation continued while she was making tea. We were on our second jump of tea when she gasped and said "Oh dear, did I forget to turn on the lights, you must think I'm horrible."

    It had gotten dark out, and thus inside as well. I was so engrossed in the conversation I didn't think about it. As she walked over and flipped on the lights I said "I just thought you liked the dark like I do. We can leave the lights off if you wish."

    She turned and looked at me like I was insane, still wearing her sunglasses. The silence was deafening. Suddenly my brain spun up and realized her dog had a harness and I said "Oh, crap, I'm sorry, I must be blind." At which point she started laughing, and I started kicking myself.

    We became best of friends despite my being oblivious. She'd been born sighted, and lost he eyesight later in life. Her sister Willa thought it great fun and used to walk her into things on purpose because she thought it was funny. Losing her eyesight slowed Jodi down just enough to get her to see even more than she already did. And me, I learned how to see from her. Even surprised her at one point by teaching myself braille and making her a birthday card.

    She thought it was cool that that day we met I spent hours with HER, not some blind person in my building. Never really could see her as blind because she was anything but. We used to have so much fun together, even to the point of going roller skating because it was something she missed. Of course taking a service dog could present a problem. Me, I wasn't going to have any of that on my watch. She when the manager threatened to have us arrested for trespass I escalated and said fine, call them, I'll wait. When they showed up the cop asked me what the problem was and I had the manager arrested. As they cuffed him I said, now that I have your attention I'll let it slide this time if you promise to learn the law, and treat ALL people with respect and dignity including service dogs.

    We had a great time, and Jody may she rest in peace, though I 'spect she's probably laughing at me right now remembering that day, taught my, helped me to see so much I'd have missed.

    You my dear are an amazing and strong child of God. But even you need rest and peace of your own. Stress sneaks into our lives on little cats paws, and slowly wears away at us. Yes, helping Cammie feel special while her grams is being difficult is wonderful and important, but you deserve the same thing.

    God helps those who help themselves! That includes you. You are incredibly wise and beautiful Christina, but you count too. That was a lesson that I had to learn the hard way. Please don't follow in my footsteps on this one.

  6. Every time I read your blog, whether you are writing about Cammie or not, I am touched deeply. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your life with us.