The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Posts Tagged ‘disability’

It‘s Been a Little While

It’s been a little while.

On 4th of July, someone popped one of those confetti thingies behind me – I didn’t know she was there. scared the bejeebus out of me, I was a shaky mess for quite a while. But…

That wasn’t The Thing. Not really.

I had a motorbike crash almost two months ago, broke my leg, surgery, hardware, etc. Could have been much worse. But you know, weirdly enough, except for the stress-relieving habit of cracking jokes left and right in the ER when I‘m jacked up, I was fine.

There have been a few things that have disturbed my basic groove. But…

It‘s been a little while since I’ve had to face The Thing. It‘s been a while since I‘ve been in That Place.

And then, was it yesterday? Maybe day before? I lose track sometimes…

I had just been reading something, somewhere, online, and came across a written account of the dialogue in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, in the scene where the German Soldier is grappling with, and then killing one of the characters with a bayonet.

“Give up. It’ll be over soon”. Something like that. The German whispered it like a tempting demon.

There was more, but I don‘t need to go into the morbid details. Seamlessly, like the strobing wink of a lighthouse on its rounds, I was in That Place. It’s not a good place. And this world, the real world for better or worse, was faded out completely. I remembered That Place. I felt the atmosphere-controlled air of an underway boat. I heard the inherent, constant hum of a living submarine. The boat moved through its exercises. And I felt it all go still, remembered like I was still at sea, sitting in Sonar. The boat went still, and then a cacophony of men running past the shack, grabbing rehearsed damage control equipment. We rigged our compartment in brisk, practiced movements. Voices gave commands, and passed info! just as we practiced. And then no one running. Everyone who could run aft had gone there, just as we had practiced.

But then… something was wrong. Time dangled with indecision, waiting to know what, why, something – anything. Only the depth gauge moved. I stood on a bulkhead, because our angle meant that was easier than the floor. Just when the tension of knowing nothing reached its apex, the Chief of the Watch started chanting. We could hear his words, and little else, on the open mike saying, “oh shit we’re gonna die” over and over again. The aux operator looked over at me, looking for something like confidence.

I didn’t have it to give.

And that moment, right there, where as a qualified submariner I didnt have an answer… that is where I stay, endlessly repeating. Why did I go blank? What look, what words, what action could I have taken to reassure the sonar crew?

We in Sonar couldn’t fight the casualty – we‘re on watch, the problem is back aft, and there’s as many as can be back there already. I can tell myself that a million times. But yet…

Over, and over.

So, we were! just waiting to die. Hope faded as we passed well into that zone beyond which sunlight never reaches.

It was a sick feeling, and I felt that sick feeling as keenly as the day I was there. The floor seemed to tip forward to the down angle we took that day. I could hear everything I heard then, all the sounds the boat made to agree with the COW, that we were indeed doomed.

I don’t know how long I stood there. I don‘t even recall standing up. When I bestirred myself the dogs had come to my side. I was weary from standing on one leg, and from the imagined stress of remaining upright in a tipped-over world.

And no one else in the room seemed to notice.

There are a fair number of people whom I love. There’s a lot of people who say they have my back. There are very, very few who seem to actually understood what they offered with that phrase when the moment comes. I guess I don’t really hold the grudge, I understand…well, how hard it is to understand That Place. It took me a couple decades and I‘m inside this head.

But when I absolutely, positively can‘t take the chance on being ok myself!

I‘ll be outside with my dogs for a while.

It gets better, I guess, in the sense while it still happens, between the right meds and counseling and some dedicated work – and the loyalty of two dogs – it’s gotten less frequent.  I‘ll figure it out.

But it‘s been a little while.

Sense of Home

Inspiration seems to find me in the oddest times and the strangest places. This morning it was on the stairway, following my son up the stairway. Sean is severely mentally handicapped. This means that while he is capable of doing many things physically, sometimes he gets lost in the doing, forgets what comes next. He has a seizure disorder to go along with his other issues, which takes away his ability to hang on to new things he learns. He leans heavily on things he learned long ago, when he was young.


One of our big struggles in his daily routine is getting him up the stairway to the shower. It’s not that he lacks the physical capacity to get himself up, though it does test his endurance, but that he forgets how to do it. He is well over 6 feet tall, and almost 250lbs, so carrying him upstairs is usually out of the question. I am somewhat bigger than him, but even so, on the stairway, that size doesn’t make the trip upstairs much easier.

This morning I was trying to think of a way to explain to someone how to get Sean up the stairway safely. I was watching and listening to myself do what I do every day, to see what key element in it makes the whole thing work for Sean and I. It became clear after a little bit that I start by accepting that I can’t force him to do much. Well, I could simply push him up the stairs, being bigger than he, but when I start doing things for him, he stops trying to do them himself and focuses on hanging on to what he knows. Then we both wind up exhausted halfway up.


So what I focus on is his initial position. He’s pretty good at following repetitive things once he’s started, so I make sure he gets to a “home” position that then leads to him remembering the next steps (no pun intended) to moving up. I put his left hand on the rail, despite the fact that he doesn’t want to reach out. I put his right hand on the wall, against the strain of him trying to pull his hand back to his chest. Once each hand touches the holding-point, he relaxes that arm and grips it like he remembers how to do it again. When he’s all positioned, I tap on the back of his right hamstring which makes him instinctively draw up his leg, and then suddenly he’s in his groove, he has remembered what to do. He slowly takes over, lifts that leg, puts his foot on the next step, and shifts upward. As we go up, if he forgets what he’s doing, I tap that hamstring again. It’s always the same foot, he seldom alternates feet. Once he gets into position, and gets started, then step by step he makes his way up until he reaches the top. On good days, he does a little happy dance to celebrate making it up and then charges into the shower room. On bad days, I have to repeat the process for the next task, walking through the door, with its own “home position” and reminders that makes it ok for him to let go of the door jamb.

As we went, step by step up the stairway this morning, I got to thinking of other situations where this method is important to him. He has a certain way of getting into the car, one foot has to be in just the right spot or nothing else works for him. He forgets how to get in, so I take him by the hand, walk him in a short loop away from the car, and approach it again. Once his approach is right, usually he gets the rest of it right.

It didn’t take long for this thought process of mine to spill over into my own life, and thoughts about raising the many other children we’ve had, that have come through our home as foster kids, or been adopted. We often think of home as that safe place where we can hide from the world. It has come to mean, in our modern lexicon, a place to step out of the world entirely, to be ourselves without the world’s intrusion. And of course, it is that. But home is not somewhere we can stay, or even want to stay. I thought of Sean, and the “home position” there at the bottom of the stairway.  Many of our kids have come home again for a spell, to get their head back together, or to just remember where it is they come from.  Home is a starting place, a place to figure out where we’re at when we’re lost, so that we can get started toward the goal we remember again. “Home”, for our children, is not “Mom and Dad and a house”, but the collection of growing up experiences that gave them their sense of values, and goals. For each child it is different. But for all of them, Home is not a destination, but a good beginning.


And then my thinking spread to spiritual life. God has not spent a lot of time forcing me to do things, forcing things upon me that I could not handle. But He created me, and knows what I was created to do and what to be, in ways I only vaguely understand most of the time. He has spent some time over the course of my life sending me back to home, walking me in a little loop so I can figure out where to start, and orienting myself, remembering where I want to go, when I become hopelessly lost in the milieu of life.

For my children, most of whom have grown, I don’t hope to keep them here forever, though I love them and their company. But I do hope that when they become lost, they remember to come home, and that in that thought they figure out where it was they need to be, and which direction that was.  Maybe it’s as simple as “left-hand bannister, right hand wall, right leg up”.  Sometimes it is for me.

As for me – I realized, by the time I got to the top of the stairway this morning with Sean, that I have two homes: the one that I was born to, that gives me an awareness of who I am now, and where to start in pursuit of my life’s purpose, and the other that I am created to be, that for now is my destination, but when I get there, will again be my starting point.