This weekend I saw a lot of beauty.
I saw Dinosaur Ridge, archaeology made real and present. I saw bones, almost the consistency of amber, embeded in rock, from one of the first places on earth where dinosaur bones were discovered.
I could see how easy it was to discover, too, because the continental plates collided and lifted up history so that it was bare to our eyes. All that history could be read easily, thick rocky layer after thick rocky layer, from where it jutted at an angle for the rain and wind and snow to lay clean.
Up in the mountains, walking into the clear sky, I saw such a different world than I’m used to. The Rocky Mountains are no swamp, and it reminded me of the perspective changes of my childhood, driving from the rainy and sleepy town of Hilo — out of the clouds — and up the volcano into the sun.
Denver is beautiful! Watching my dad roll his wheelchair with determination around the edge of a cliff was even more beautiful.
Eating a fine meal of Moroccan food with him was just lovely, especially when he told a tale of traveling in Afghanistan and eating boiled sheep’s head in the tent of a local.
Being with him helped me think through a lot of prejudices, and see a lot of prejudices.
There was a moment at Craig Center when I realized what it was like to be dehumanized.
For a little while, whenever I passed a wheelchair-bound person in the halls of the medical center, I’d automatically avert my eyes, for no good reason that I can discover within myself. Was it my own inability to figure out my emotional reaction, or perhaps a faux-politeness to allow a person his or her own emotional space?
But then I caught the strangely ashamed look of a person that I walked by without acknowledging, his eyes cast down as if to bear the lack of a human gaze. I realized that not looking at someone is the opposite of affirming their life. I realized that my reaction was more about me than them, and I focused on truly looking at the wheeled people, into their eyes so that I could smile and say hello and treat them like any other human.
After that, it became easier to comprehend that we’re simply lucky nowadays.
We’re able to become cyborgs much more than we ever have before. Those people whose bodies have stopped functioning in one way or another, but who can keep the important parts of themselves alive through machines, wheels, things that give them freedom, they are a rudimentary wave of cyborgs. I remember stories of one person with an external heart, one person with a mechanical arm. We’re reinventing ourselves with technology, but remaining human within — but only if we can can treat technologically-assisted humans as human.
I spoke to a woman whose husband has been a quadriplegic for 30 years. The woman used all kinds of slang to refer to people’s conditions. “I met a little five year old boy who tripped on his shoelaces and became a partial quad,” she said. “That man over there is a para.” There’s a culture, and it’s strong at Craig, with its own language and connections and emotions.
Next week, my dad moves away from Denver and the fine facilities and supportive staff who help him get used to his body and keep him feeling human. I hope this transition is easy, and that Hilo can open itself wide to take back a beloved adopted citizen.
I’m with him in my mind. I’ll try to journey with him as best I can.