I've had some interesting thoughts provoked by a novel.
So Dody thought her life hadn't stopped. And all this time she felt like she was waiting for it to begin.
Sometimes I feel like this.
I'm reading What Love Sees, a biographical novel about Jean Treadway, who lost her sight at the age of 12. The novel follows her through "finishing school" in the mid-1930s and provides a very vivid glimpse into her feelings about blindness. I'm somewhat annoyed by the author's insertion of visual detail into some of the scenes when it's clear that the intended point of view is that of a person who would not see these details. I guess it's supposed to make a point of making the reader aware of what Jean is missing out on, but it didn't make that point with me. It made the scene awkward to read.
On to more relevant things than my critique of Susan Vreeland's writing style... There are a lot of places in the book where these little points are made about the experience of blindness. They're hard to quote because the sentences that make the point are part of a context that drives the point home. So the real point is lost in quoting a sentence that jumped out at me. In this scene, for example, Jean has returned from a ritzy cruise vacation and is realizing that all the people she knows seem to have some purpose to their lives, something to do each day other than being entertained. She is realizing that she feels that she is an object to be cared for or a child to be amused rather than a person with responsibilities and autonomy or initiative. She gets involved with a number of things but wonders if they are really time wasters and not real reflections of who she is as a person. But Dody, a former classmate from finishing school, sees things differently. She sees Jean as an active person who has overcome the limitations and stereotypes that Dody would expect a blind person to have, and she sees Jean as a good role model for an acquaintance who has lost his sight.
Reading this scene made me think of myself and the conflicting perspectives about my life that I and other people have. This book does a good job of illustrating the fact that a person may see herself very differently from the way that others see her and, in fact, that others may have divergent perspectives about her as well. There are a lot of hidden messages in this book, and maybe this is a good reason to read fiction. I can talk about things in the abstract all day--and I like to do just that--but sometimes it's more poignant to just show it and let it sink in.
Anyway, I'm thinking about my own life. I'm not a young lady anymore, although I'm not an old lady either. When I was 14, someone asked me who I thought I would be ten years from now. I said I'd be married with a child and be a teacher. I'm almost ten years past that point, and I'm not anywhere close to that lifestyle. I sometimes compare myself to my mom: when she was my age she was married, they owned their own house, and they had two kids. They also worked 50 or so hours a week and commuted across Houston. On one hand, I hate the fact that I don't have this kind of achievement in my life. On another hand--and maybe for once there are more than two hands I can use--I'm not sure I'd want to make that kind of sacrifice. My mom seems to me to have a deep longing for family closeness; but I don't think the lifestyles our society promotes lend themselves to the kind of closeness she wants or the kind of closeness she knew as a child. Do I want lifestyle, or do I want depth? Can I have both? And more currently, what am I doing with my life?
Outwardly, my life is everything I used to despise. I live on SSI, and I suspect a fair number of people would think that I have no motivation to work and that I want things handed to me. I'm not out applying for every job listed in the paper. I used to say I'd flip burgers if I could. Did I really mean it, or did I say it because I was angry about discrimination and wanted people to realize that I can't even get the most basic of jobs? Sometimes I fear answering that question... But I need to stop living according to my perceptions about how everyone else thinks I should live and start living according to what's true.
What is true? What is happening with my life? I don't know. I can't plan it all out, and that isn't just because I'm blind. It's because I'm not God. I'm watching a friend's little girl for the summer--I'll talk more about that in other entries because it's important. This also means that I have some insight into what J is doing in her effort to fulfill her purpose as well as provide for her child. J doesn't have any more "plan" for her life than I do. She is struggling along, just like I am, trying to figure out what God sets before her, because she doesn't envision herself working mindless jobs for the rest of her life. C isn't getting any younger, and it's going to be a long time before she's ready to support herself. So it doesn't make a ton of sense for J to wait around for C to grow up before deciding to make full use of her abilities.
I'm also learning from C. I'm learning that keeping house and caring for children are not small responsibilities, even when I'm healthy and energetic. I'm learning the importance of balancing my time so that C has what she needs and so do I. I'm learning that there are some aspects of my life I'd like to change--I have spent a lot of time doing solitary things: reading, writing, designing web pages, answering emails from people who I know exist but who I have never met personally... I'm learning that I don't want to belittle these solitary things I do--and I think that fear of doing just that has led me to resist less solitary activity. These are all important things, but doing something less solitary (caring for C, participating in choir, etc.) doesn't mean that my solitary activity is unimportant or shameful. In fact, it calls me to think of the importance of all the things that I do and find ways to balance my life so that all things can be done. I haven't figured out how to do this yet. But my point is that my life does have meaning and purpose. It always has. I have not been idle, even when my activities have been solitary and I haven't been receiving a paycheck.
I have been outputting as wlel as caring for myself. I've always measured my worth by asking if I've "been productive." Maybe "productive" is not an appropriate word to use--it suggests that my worth is based on what visible things I have accomplished, and that's really no better than measuring my worth based on my riches. Maybe the more appropriate question to ask myself is, "Have I lived my life purposefully today?" Have my activities been directed toward caring for myself or others? What differentiates solitary activity from idleness? I don't know many people who literally sit around doing nothing. I know that some activities can be time wasters. How much "time wasting" is rightly called relaxation, and how much is really idleness?