Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Identity is Fluid



So, this is a picture of me and newborn Sophie in March of 1995. I found it this morning when I was rummaging around in a drawer on my desk. It was precisely twenty-two years ago and less than three months from the day that life as I knew it would begin to unravel. As a friend put it: BTSHTF.*

When I see these old photos of The Time Before, I can't help but peer at them in a sort of writerly self-absorbed searching for the meaning of the whole clusterfu**k that we call life kind of way. I'm constantly wrestling with identity --what it is, exactly, that makes us who we were, who we are, what makes us human. I can remember who that young woman in the picture was if I think hard enough, and lately my life's strange and beautiful circumstances have reminded me of her, too --  but I believe we hold some kind of essence that is constant even in inconstancy, if that makes sense. I will go out on the proverbial limb here to include Sophie as well. That baby I'm holding was very different from the baby that was diagnosed with infantile spasms a couple of months later. I remember thinking in the months that followed that I'd been given a new baby, so violent were the expectations up-ended. Bless my sweet heart. I don't remember when I realized that Sophie's essence was intact, but today, twenty-two years later, I'm thinking about how identity is fluid, and it leaks out of the eyes and down the face from some kind of deep dark well.

 I toured a facility for developmentally disabled adults this afternoon. The place was a sort of Bleak House and fulfilled my expectations for such a place, even if I entered it with the usual dumb hope whose source shares room with fathomless sorrow. I was going to write a quasi-bitter post about the sheer physical ugliness of the facility, how many adults were crammed into tiny rooms with no windows or decoration or flooring or soft surfaces, how we determined that Sophie's toileting needs could not be accommodated as there was no changing table in the restroom, and how when I voiced my objections to that, I was reminded that perhaps the Senior Care facility down the road was a better fit for my daughter. How old are the people in that facility? I asked. Around 45-80 years, but we have some younger ones, the director told me with a straight face, even as she took the machete hanging on the stucco wall and slashed my chest. Reader, these people were kind and industrious, I swear.

Identity, you remember, can be fluid.

At worst, the seventeen minutes I spent at the facility was a kind of Monty Python scene of absurdity with tinges of Ingmar Bergman and the careening humanity of Fellini. Know that places like this are where WE AS A CULTURE HAVE CONSIGNED OUR FELLOW HUMANS WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, at least those who aren't from wealthy families (and I mean wealthy, as in rich as shit). These are the places that WE AS A CULTURE LEAVE TO POLITICIANS TO FUND, TO HACK AWAY AND MARGINALIZE. At best, visiting Bleak House was the sort of experience that has helped to define me as a person and a writer, however self-absorbed.

I lifted my head from the steering wheel after crying there for a moment or two and realized that it'd be interesting to take a photo twenty-two years ATSHTF.** If identity is fluid, it is here, leaking out of the eyes and down the face from some kind of deep dark well.




Identity is fluid. Essence is intact.
























  *Before The Shit Hit The Fan
**After The Shit Hit The Fan

22 comments:

  1. Essence, despite all, is most certainly intact. You are so fiercely beautiful.

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  2. How many pictures I've seen of happy, new young mothers (even me, in retrospect still young at 34) BTSHTF. The innocent delight in the eyes hits me every time.

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  3. I cannot even imagine how hard this must be. You were fierce and beautiful then, holding baby Sophie. You are fierce and beautiful now, holding her still.

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  4. I love love the first picture of you and Sophie. Your soul is open in that one. Your eyes. The eyes that didn't know what was to be. And your eyes now? There is a softness there. A spirit shining gently through of a soul that has been hit over and over and still continues to rise. There is wisdom in those eyes. Old soul wisdom.

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  5. A parent's love for their children is the most beautiful love there is.

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  6. Any words I have aren't adequate. I bear witness. Your essence is beautiful.

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  7. Essence is most certainly intact!

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  8. Your words have left me shaken thinking about what we, as a supposedly civilized society condone silently. Birdie is right, your eyes show your essence.
    xoxo
    Barbara

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  9. Oh mama. All of this. So much love.

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  10. ohhhhhhhh. This was my biggest fear. Well, second biggest I guess.

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  11. Beautifully written as always. I have been working on a blog post about the Buddhist idea of "no self", so this is timely. Will definitely quote and link to this. Thanks.

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  12. It's no wonder how these strange and beautiful new circumstances take you back to that time a bit, the future must sit a bit foggy. A foot in each world, both firm and both floating.

    Your eyes from the first photo and your eyes from the second photo are beautiful, you have beautiful eyes, Elizabeth, both break my heart.
    Love.

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  13. Your Essence is indeed intact... the Eyes are the Windows to the Soul, tho' still Beautiful, the ATSHTF Image shows the Sorrow and Pain you have endured on behalf of your Precious Child. The Bleak House experience leaves me with great Sorrow as I too have visited such places and I don't understand why they cannot Create at Atmosphere to preserve the Dignity and Create a Home-Like Environment for the Residents that aren't RICH AS SHIT! It's just not Right... and it makes me Angry and frustrated beyond Words... BTW: Keep your dumb Hope Alive, I am determined to keep mine Alive, I feel that I just have to... Big Virtual Hugs... Dawn... The Bohemian

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  14. I remember looking at nursing homes for Dan when I thought he'd just need a few weeks to get him back on his feet. Sending you SO much love right now.

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  15. Ah, those beautiful before pictures, when I didn't appreciate how good we had it.

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  16. Both photos brought tears to my eyes...

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  17. This post has left me shattered. Truth from the dark side.

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  18. You cause me to think of identity as being defined by externals, whereas essence is just that, the wholeness and truth of self. Words like prevail, unwaivering, indestructible, resilient. Some of us are only tasked with the care of one soul, you have the task of two. Sending love to your present and past selves. xo

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  19. I'm so sorry that you are in this place of decision, the place you knew you would have to come to, not knowing the when of it. Even your imagining of it couldn't come close to the reality of it, nothing ever does.
    I often go back and read a post, because there is so much in each one of them, and now that I've been here a couple of times, the real take away is the image of you walking through that door, alone, carrying the way it used to be and the way it is. God, I'm so sorry, Elizabeth. And I'm so glad that you have your love to buffer it.

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