The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Falling on our butts in a binary world

Yesterday in the shower, Sean fell. And I had an epiphany.

For those who don‘t know, Sean is severely disabled. Besides “profound mental impairment” as the medical charts read, he also developed a severe seizure disorder that really became an issue starting in his early teens. What this means in practical terms now, at age 30, is that he can‘t safely stand unattended, and can‘t understand why not.

So, I give him his shower each morning. We start standing up, and then when his back side is clean he sits down for the rest. He usually barely makes it to the sitting down part, but it‘s got to be done, so we have things in place to make it easier and faster to get through that first stage. There‘s a shower chair. We redesigned the bathroom to an open floor plan. The soap is in a pump so we can get to it one-handed while keeping in contact with Sean with the other.

Well, yesterday I tried something new. To try and stop him from getting water in his mouth, and then aspirating it, I turned everything around. Shower chair under the shower, him with his back to the faucet. But he didn‘t like that much. It was out of his routine, and he kept trying to turn around. So finally I said, “fine, turn around then”.

But I didn‘t immediately move the chair. I was just reaching for the liquid soap dispenser, and though I could get away with a moment with no chair behind him.

Except the usual soap was replaced by a plain bottle that required two hands. And in that moment where I grabbed it, flipped it, and squirted soap out, Sean decided the time for standing was done. He bounced off the back wall, and because he has little bent-leg strength, hit the floor heavily with his butt.

And so, now, he‘s got a big ol‘ bruise on his butt. And I feel awful.

While treatment is clear and Sean just needs to heal, I‘ve got a few choices, going forward, regarding my sense of responsibility. I could transfer my anger to someone else. Who the heck replaced my one-hand pump dispenser? Eh, it could be that I failed to notice it was empty and someone, not understanding this intricacy of Sean‘s process, just grabbed something out of the supply closet. Who knows. I could blame the chair for not being there. You laugh, but I have some experience with panic-induced rage. It seldom is even remotely logical, and I usually just add to the things I need to apologize for later. I could blame Sean for dropping. Nope. Can‘t do it.

Which brings me to myself. I let go of him, and he fell. And so do I beat myself up over it, or let myself off the hook?

How about none of those, by themselves?

I‘ve been stewing about this for 24 hours now, and in the meanwhile, having engaged on Facebook on a variety of issues of the day, some of the patterns and arguments here have tried to flavor my stew. And I‘ve realized that this example bears some similarities to the things we rage about here too.

Very little of what we experience has binary answers of “right” vs “wrong”. That‘s not to say there isn‘t truth and falsehood, but we humans, being intrinsically bent to evil, seldom experience any sort of pure clarity in our lives. This experience yesterday was, at the last, caused by letting go. And that is something I can do something about. Who put that bottle of soap there? I can search for a guilty party, but yelling about it, while maybe will change them, it will do so in a damaging way – they will be just a bit more defensive, a bit more insecure, and no one operates well under insecurity.

And so it is too with the social issues of The Day that we debate so fiercely. To say, for example that “the conservatives caused all of this” or “the liberals caused all of this” fails to grasp the totality of the problems we discuss. The Cossacks did harm, but they also experienced it. Illegal immigrants, people with guns, powerful businessmen, freaky dreamers, well-meaning do-gooders – all have caused harm, and experienced it. In fact, I‘ll go so far as to say all of our explanations and solutions fail to wrap our minds around the totality. And we will always fail to grasp it. Always.

So what do we do instead? There is a philosophy that, curiously enough has been around for a few thousand years. For whatever reason we reject it over and over. We reject the name behind it, because it has been hijacked and appropriated by Charlatans, Tyrants, and Schemers who see its practitioners as easy targets. We reject it because it denies us our perceived right to rage. We reject it because it requires of us to surrender our pride.

But, as I think about all the options to dealing with mistakes, I remember that I only have the option of control for myself. I can not control others directly.

Pride leads me to believe I can control others. It leads me to believe I should. Ultimately it leads me to believe I must, and that, right there, is the pattern of Evil.

The pattern of Good is explained by love. It reminds me that not only can I not control others, that heck, I can‘t really even control myself most of the time. I can only love or hate.

And the next step is where it gets real sticky. I am reminded that this is where the realization that if my goal is to be a good person, that in some way I must rely on a Strength greater than my own. That Strength allows me to forgive, because it forgives me. Note I don‘t say “excuse”. I am forgiven. And if there is any payment required for that, it is that I accept being forgiven, and practice it towards others. Lives come, lives go, sometimes tragically. Love takes time, it creeps in through your practice, and bleeds like life-blood into the people around you. Sometimes it takes generations to re-establish itself. But my only role, the only skill I have in it, is to accept and pass on that hidden Higher Strength.


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8 Responses to “Falling on our butts in a binary world”

  1. Brig says:

    Interesting post. My much beloved MIL once told me after I had a couple of rough days caring for my husband, that things would be much easier when I quit trying to play God. I sure miss that lady and her wise words.

  2. There is a profound wisdom in this–it is neither or right nor our responsibility to impose our views and values on others. In the end, we only really can control ourselves, if that much. We really have power only ONE person. There’s a great old movie, “The Power of One” that explores this. We’re talking about this in my writing classes right now–for their final, my students have been asked to identify and explore ONE issue that underlies mass violence–school shootings in particular. Nobody needs to have all the answers–by the end of the term we won’t even have all the answers as a group–but we might have a better understanding of the questions. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a glimmer of an idea of what we might do to address those issues, one by one.

    • gkeller says:

      It would be interesting to hear how the class would apply this essay to that problem

      • Yes, it would–it’s really a question of accepting not responsibility (I would suggest that the combination of factors that led to Sean’s mishap is just that–a collection of factors, and not the “fault” of any one thing) but of choosing to accept the reality of the present, and ask how one might bring good from the circumstances–or at the very least mitigate harm (and prevent future tumbles). I think the question of school shootings is a similar question–we have a combination of factors that result in terrible consequences. Without seeking to impose blame on any one contributor, how can we mitigate circumstances to put such terrible things truly behind us? With your permission, I like to possibly share this with my class–but only with your permission.

        • gkeller says:

          As they say, LolZ!

          Wouldn’t have suggested it otherwise. Yes, please do.

          My main thought had less to do with my particular situation with Sean and more to do with the power of the kinds of forces we bring to bear on the problems of the day. It seems to me that when we attack, blame, try to shout down, to overwhelm, or even to kill, the end result is seldom positive. Even if you have a war and win, there severe side effects. If instead we tap into the power of love to build up, it may take a while, but we create a setting in which problems just sort of seem to work themselves out without us.

          Maybe we use hate because that’s something we can control, and direct, and claim personal victory with. I mean, who wants problems go solve themselves without us getting the credit?

          • I couldn’t agree more–my big, sneaky plan is to give students an opportunity to engage with a difficult subject and each other in a positive way–in other words, learn to listen, and agree (or disagree) respectfully and constructively. So it’s really a final about learning to discuss difficult things without becoming, well, difficult!

          • gkeller says:

            Wish I could be a fly in that wall…

          • I think it’ll be interesting–I’ve really only had one student who really, really hated my class (most find it a positive experience). And of course there was the student who wrote his self-introduction in the voice of John Wayne Gacey, which quite frankly scared the pants off me. He elected to drop after dropping that “load.”


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