I just got back from a long overdue roadtrip up the West Coast with my mom to visit family. My godparents are in their 90’s and living in Sedro-Woolley in Washington, and I’d not seen them for over a decade (last when I was 14 years old). They are two of the most frank, hilarious, loving, and strange people I know. When I was a kid, they lived in a magical handmade house in Williams, Oregon with peacocks, and rusty antiques. Willard fed his coi fish Cheetos, played old songs with his player piano, and flirted with every woman he ever met. Irla would run herself horse talking nonstop and loved getting kisses from her parakeet. Their house was a magical place when I was a kid. Willard liked to stick peacock feathers into the wooden beams in the ceiling, and had what he called a “rust garden” with an eclectic collection of bizarre and interesting antiques. I have a bouquet of peacock feathers from their house that are very precious to me, and I’ve started collecting for my own rust garden.
We drove from Healdsburg to Portland, then to Seattle, visited with my uncle in Sequim Washington, then up to Sedro-Woolley for the Tulip festival and back. Mom and I shared the driving, and paired with each other just perfectly since she is a morning person and I’m more of a night owl. I took photos along the way.
Willard is living with rapidly progressing dementia and didn’t remember my mom (after 40 years of friendship) and certainly not me. He was, however, his usual stubborn, playful, and humble self and cracked jokes and sang to us the entire time. Irla was fiercer and more uninhibited than ever. She demanded that she must cook for us, and pulled herself along the countertop to cook soup from scratch (all while sharing with us about every change that her body had experienced over the years). She commanded Willard to sit down, get dressed, or grab something for her that she couldn’t lift. Both of them insisted that they were taking care of the other, and I believed them both.
Through visiting with them, I am inspired by what love can accomplish, and how important it is that we ask for help. Irla was having a rough time trying to keep her independence as her body changed. I can’t imagine what that must be like, but it’s in all of our best interests to see that we are never independent, that we are all constantly depending on others, leaning on each other, helping each other. I think that the work that we have to do, is to recognize that, and to see the beauty and necessity of it. Like sharing the driving responsibilities on a roadtrip, it’s a necessary part of our journies. It’s hard to release the illusion of control, and scary to think that we might lose ourselves if we let go. But every day I get to learn from people living with disabilities that this is what community is about, and that we are all already interdependent. We all get to flourish when we give to and receive from each other . Irla took care of four elders through to their passing. Now she is fighting for independence from her daughter who wants to care for her. We need to rethink how we see disability and confront our cultural illusions of independence. Asking for help creates an opportunity for others to step up. I think that we’ve created a cultural agreement that independence is power, that paying for the check at dinner, or helping someone stand is a sign of power. This isn’t workable. We all need help. If we’re scared to lose power and don’t speak up, we’ll only hurt ourselves, as well as others, and create unnecessary separation. There’s no such thing as a vacuum free from others. Caring for someone else, and being cared for is a true honor, and sign of love & trust. I think that as someone who needs help, we should speak up more about it, and ask for help more openly. As someone who can lend help, we should rethink our assumptions of the role as being powerful, and see it as a service and recognize that we get something out of our helping too.
I believe that this shift from stubborn independence to community based interdependence & trust is what the entire world could use right now. The more honest we can be with each other, and the less we contribute to the story that independence is power, then the closer, more authentic, and stronger we can be as a whole.