Yesterday I gave a talk to a group of retirees, some even older than I am, about overcoming obstacles. This was the subject the group asked me to address. I spoke of the many challenges I’ve faced, learning Braille, cane travel, getting lost, risking public absurdity, trying to publish in a rough marketplace, keeping up with technology, and aging. I said, as I often do, that my life is harder with the challenges of my disabilities, but much richer.
In the New Year sermon at my husband’s synagogue, the rabbi spoke of living intentionally, of living authentically. I think our obstacles bring us face to face with our core, our “gut,” as the rabbi put it. We are stripped of our titles and our trappings of success and confront our essences, with all their warts and flaws.
My disabilities have made me face the hard truth of my foibles and pettinesses, have made me examine my life with a toughness I might not have applied.
I’d always thought that the “examined life” would bring calm and contentment. Certainly I experience both occasionally and maybe even frequently. But I haven’t achieved the Buddha-like tranquility that will prevent me from saying a wrong word or from frustrating my children. And I do live with fairly chronic angst, and I’ve decided that that’s a good thing. Certainly my Deaf-blindness makes me bang tabletops with my forehead when I bend. That accounts for some angst, to be sure. But most of my anxiety comes from the effort to be an informed citizen and the concern for the world that follows. Still, angst spurs me on to try to do some small good.
The rabbi remembered Neil Armstrong who recently died. She said that his famous quote, “That’s one small step for man,” or, as she put it, “a man,” was something we should practice. One small step toward correcting a wrong, one small bit of good that we can do—this is possible with all our obstacles and all our jammed schedules. And these small steps spring from our angst, yet lessen our angst. And just maybe they can make a difference or improve something in the lives of others.