Yesterday I went to a church for the second time. An older lady greeted me, handed me a bulletin, and made a rather loud comment about me having someone read it to me later. I was with another girl who is a student at the university. We had gone in while Dad was parking the car. Mom was out of town.
The other girl wasn't that familiar with the church, so we waited around for my dad. The greeting lady came up and started asking me tons of blindness questions. I try to be willing to educate people, especially if they are asking because of family circumstances. But this time I just felt very awkward and trapped. She hadn't said welcome to the church, asked if I needed to knowwhere to go (probably assumed the other girl would take care of me), asked if I minded answering questions, or even told me her name! I was feeling like Exhibit A on blindness. At the same time this was going on, a little kid was saying, "Oh, she can't see!" rather loudly, and his mom was saying, "I guess not," also loudly.
When I told my mom about this, she said that I should see it as an opportunity to minister to someone. I asked her if she had any idea how it feels to have this happen everywhere I go, to never be a person and to always be obligated to answer everyone's questions. She said I took it too personally.
I wanted to be a person. I wanted to be welcome in the church. Maybe I was the one needing some ministry. It isn't just a blindness issue. It's partially that. The blindness is what brings on the other issues, but it's not the whole of it. It's thefact that I am not a person. I'm an information bank. I have no feelings and no right to have feelings. Having feelings is selfish. I must have compassion, and my compassion must be perfect and ever-ready. It doesn't matter if I'm hurting or feel like talking about it or not.
There are other issues as well. I feel like every aspect of who I am which makes me different--less able--than others can be examined by others as if it is fascinating. This goes back to those relationship styles I discussed earlier. I am a symbol ofthe blind, pitied or condescendingly admired, never related to on a personal level. I have no being other than my blindness. If I had it, wouldn't it be seen?
Once not too long ago, another blind person told me that I should get a life besides blindness. How am I supposed to do this when I am imprisoned in blindness issues every time I go out in public? I would love to be anonymous for a change. My parents can go out without me, go shopping, etc. If they choose not to speakto someone or to speak only about certain topics, the stigma of having a blind daughter is avoidable for them. It is not avoidable for me.
To further complicate the issue, there are many blind people who are not bothered by all of this. My hypersensitivity sets me apart even from my own community. I could go to therapy. My needfor therapy makes me poorly adjusted, and being poorly adjusted makes me less worthy of respect than others. When these feelings reach a high point, I cannot bear to relate to others, even in thefaceless world of the Internet--the only place where I can be anonymous--because I feel that it is somehow deceptive for a poorly adjusted blind person to write as if she knows what she is talking about.
I am supposed to leave very soon for dinner with a friend. I want to go, and I don't want to go. I am ashamed of feeling like this. I must put on the happy face mask. I must lie. I hate to lie.
I have not told anyone at the church about the experience. I want to. That would be educating, and it needs to be done. But, as Mom pointed out, if they addressed the issue with the greeters,the lady's feelings would be hurt. I could have told her that I wasn't up to talking right then, but that would have been rude as well. For me to refuse to discuss an issue makes me appearunapproachable. I don't want to be unapproachable, but at the same time this particular approach is very old. I cannot put a sign on the door to my life which says, "Please use other door." But my door must never be locked. If it is locked once, people assume it is locked for all time. It is even supposed to be open when other people would be viewed as temporarily engaged and not to be disturbed. People come up and quiz me while I'm having other conversations, while I'm reading... Things which would normally be considered rude are acceptable. For me to insist on being treated with common courtesy, even in the most polite way, is unacceptable.
This is like that unhealthy selflessness I described a few weeks ago. I am once again setting all of my needs, comforts, and dignity aside in order to educate or help others. Nothing about myself is private except what I want with all my heart to share. My true self is never known. (Does it really even exist?) I have no opportunity to be who I really am. Instead, I must live up to who other people think I am, who they want me to be, who they think I should be, who they make me. Is it any wonder that I am confused about who I am? I am always giving up my own ideas because to assert them would hurt people's feelings. Why hold onto ideas I can never express? Why hold onto a self I can never be? Yet the new self who I become is soon another thing which no longer applies. I am with a new person, or I know the old person in a different way, and that self which I managed to adopt is no longer the self which belongs in the situation. So the process begins again. Discard the existing self and adopt a new one to fit the situation. Yet the old images of self are never totally discarded. They are saved away in the back of my mind. If I find a situation in which one of them would be appropriate, I can pull it out and put it on like an outfit. It saves me the work of recreating it.
This process continues to self-perpetuate. It isn't easy just to stop. Stopping requires that I give myself permission not toplease the whole world and, when it comes down to it, not to please anyone all the time but myself and God. This is a very difficult thing for me because of the seemingly innate concern I have for everyone else and the need for me to be unselfish.
I know that this is a learned behavior. What I don't know is how I learned it or how to cope with unlearning it. It is particularly difficultfor me to give myself permission not to please my parents, my sister, or people in any position of authority over me. Of course, saying this also requires that I acknowledge that the position of authority is a vague concept for me. There are obvious positions of authority--teachers, ministers, doctors, law enforcement officials... But in certain situations the simple fact that someone has sight and possesses knowledge or skills which I need places that person in a position of power over me. I must please that person, or I will not get what I need. If that person is inclined to gossip and others are inclined to believe what is said, my ability to get what I need is further hindered.