Wednesday, 10 September 2014

"So... Why Lawrence?" (pt1)

No one in Lawrence knows who I am.  No one here is related to me, no one here has kept in touch with me, no one here knows my name until I tell them.  When I found a ride from Burning Man I looked for someone who was coming here - I told D "I'm going to Lawrence."  This place was the bulls-eye and I shot myself towards it from Nevada like an arrow.  Lawrence doesn't have much of a claim to fame unless you're attending the university.  I should explain why I'm here.  That'll take a few posts, so bear with me.

It's not an understatement to say that Lawrence, Kansas made the rest of my life possible.  At 18 the best I could picture for myself was a lifetime of Person with Disabilities benefits, trying to find a way to contribute something meaningful to a world that I couldn't possibly belong to.

From the time I was 5, I had a chronic illness.  I spent a lot of time in hospitals and had more diagnostics than I care to describe run on me over the course of the next 8 years.  No one ever diagnosed what was wrong with me.  The only symptom was pain, which tended to radiate about 6 inches around my navel.  I missed progressively more school and became less functional as I got older.  I stopped attending school regularly in grade 8, which I passed by a few inches, and didn't really progress in my education past grade 9.  I kept trying and managed to get a few credits from arts courses and things that didn't require regular attendance, but in all of the major subjects (English, Math, Science, Social Studies) I never progressed past grade 9.

The few people I know who are or were chronically ill have a strong consensus.  Chronic illness doesn't make sense to people who aren't chronically ill - it has a lot of similarities with mental illness, head and soft tissue injuries and other forms of "invisible illness."  If you haven't had the experience I can tell you that it hurt, and you can imagine pain, but the long-term changes it writes into a person are morbid to describe.  I won't spend too much time on it - that isn't the point of this post.  If chronic pain is something you've experienced, you probably understand what I mean.  If it isn't, I encourage you to reflect on this quote:

"When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing.  But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant." -Thich Nhat Hanh

I was 18, it was the summertime, school had just ended.  It occurred to me that when I turned 19 I wouldn't be allowed back into regular public school.  I hadn't graduated, I was stalled in classes at the grade 9 level, and being sick dominated everything.  In addition to being sick, I was sickly - 6 feet tall and 130lbs.  The one place I was barely hanging on (school) was about to refuse my re-entry.  All of my available next steps looked like failure.  Something in me couldn't accept that. 

I did the only thing I could think of.  I got a big backpack, put my worldly possessions into it and crossed into the U.S.A.  I had no plan, no fixed destination, no idea how I would get by or make my life work.  This was a Hail Mary pass, a last ditch attempt to avoid a life that I didn't think I could live with.  I had no idea how it would work, no idea if it would work, no idea what working would even look like, but I couldn't just lean back and let things continue to disintegrate.  I lied to all my friends and family about having ambitions to make it to Brazil and have a grand adventure.  My honest ambitions had to do with trying the last desperate jailbreak strategy I could think of.

There are some hefty emotional parallels between that and what I'm doing right now... and honestly that's the point.  That's a huge part of the point of this whole adventure I'm taking. 

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."  -Nelson Mandela

I was nervous about stepping back onto the road... stepping back into the unknown.  The process of travel hasn't changed.  I have found several of the ways in which I, myself have altered already.

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