Grad School: The 3rd Spring

I thought this semester was going to be easy, instead it was a semester that looked easy on paper and was anything but in reality.

At first I was only taking one class, which isn’t uncommon for pat time distance learners, like myself, but I’ve been fortunate to be able to take at least 2 classes per semester (thank God for 1 & 2 credit courses).

Then all the practical pieces for my practicum came together and that’s where things got interesting.

Even my advisor was shocked, which should’ve been at least one clue.

I must’ve thought my practicum was going to be easy because there were no big benchmarks, like quizzes, tests, or papers. Instead it would be more of a “boots on the ground” class.

In other words, I’d be working with people.

It’s one thing to master concepts in a book but it’s another to put them into practice, or sometimes just attempt to.

Now I’m no stranger to working alongside people but this was semester was a lesson in interpersonal communications for sure.

I have a whole new respect for people who do parish work. I have even more respect for people who find it energizing. I think I would find it incredibly stressful if I worked at 98% of the parishes I’ve heard people talk about.

I appreciate the gifts of being able to work for myself, by myself, when, where, and as much, or as little as I want to, more as well.

I never imagined I’d look forward to learning about the Old Testament either, but that’s just how things worked this semester. I can honestly say that there’s more depth in the Old Testament than I ever thought possible, and the class just scraped the surface of it all.

I will not be changing to the Biblical Studies program with an Old Testament emphasis, just in case you were wondering.

The “easy on paper” semester ended up being the “hardest semester so far” in reality. I won’t lie I almost cried & screamed in delight when I logged in to check my official grades recently, which was probably a good thing because the library was morgue level quiet at the time.

I survived, that was enough for me, to be recognized for the hard work was just icing on the cake.

Now on to finishing with the summer……

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Boats, Buses, and Piggybacks

I’ve always been on boats & around boats so I don’t really consider them a mode of travel, at least not exclusively. I’ve “lived at sea” before, however I doubt if it’ll be in my future. You’d be surprised to know how many people actually live on their boat. It isn’t for everybody, but it usually doesn’t come down to adaptations due to disability.

I know what you’re thinking. A common trait of CP is having issues with balance & coordination. How could you have managed on a boat?

Pretty easily actually, for one thing no one told me that it should be more difficult for me. Another reason is it’s good boating to hold onto something, or be close enough to something you can grab, at all times. If I ever got hurt while cruising it was usually my bad judgment or from someone speeding through a “no wake” zone, and that happens to everyone equally. I will tell you though I wasn’t too fond of safe boating practices, but it comes down to personal freedoms.

Funny story, the one time I remember the Coast Guard “pulling us over” I was actually wearing a life-jacket & it actually fit correctly. It still makes me laugh & I was around 5.

I’m not the biggest fan of long bus trips, thanks to hearing enough horrific stories. But when it comes to getting from point A to point B, like getting to work, I have little to complain about. I just wish it was a more popular mode of transportation to make it more convenient & safer.

I use to take the bus to work every single day & to get a lot of places to cut down on the walking. Remember when it was uncool to have a bus pass? I was uncool & totally O.K. with it. It’s actually really nice if you live somewhere with a quality transit system, including frequent stops so when you go up another stop for something to eat you can still walk home.

Cabs. Oh cabs. I know some people swear by them, but if I can get somewhere without one I’ll do it. I guess I’ve used too many DC cabs and not enough NYC cabs. The fare rates are totally different, if you didn’t know before now you do. Bring a lot of cash & prepare to be shocked.

For those that qualify there’s also the adventure of Paratransit. I used a service when my gym schedule wasn’t really consistent. Let me just say this, it has its issues on top of not being available when you need them. But if you understand what you’re getting into & you’re somewhat flexible it is a nice option for you. The biggest problem I’ve had were issues with the staff themselves, not the actual service. Overall it’s a nice thing to have in your back packet, just in case.

As for the piggyback rides, these work two ways, for fun & function. On longer treks with a group I usually end up catching a ride. After a while I just can’t keep up so the best solution is to hop on & hang on tight. If I’m the only one ready for a break it’s often better to get a ride than hold everyone else up.

However, everyone has their limits, after I announced my surgery plans to friends, I got, “You better tell that doctor to do his job, after this there are no more free piggyback rides.” I know he’s mostly kidding, but it’s something to be aware of.

I’ve also gotten a surprising number of places by bicycle. However, I don’t recommend riding on someone’s handlebars for more than a few blocks. It’s fun, but somewhat dangerous.

Norwegian push sleds are also fun, but mostly for fun, even if they have been/are used for transportation in some parts.

Did I miss something? I’m not sure I did.

*A similar version of this post first appeared on an old blog on March 9, 2012

Planes, Trains, And Automobiles

I love traveling, or at least I want to love it.

Don’t be surprised if there’s a part two for this; which would probably include Boats, Buses, and Piggybacks.

Here’s the funny thing about my traveling experience.

I don’t really have any.

I’ve traveled to various places in the United States but I’ve barely been out of the country. I’ve had a passport for years but it’s empty, I’ve used it solely for identification reasons.

What’s really insane is that every time I’ve had the opportunity to travel, particularly overseas, in the last few years I’ve looked for reasons not to go. Actually it hasn’t been that difficult, which is probably part of the problem in itself, I have limited finances, I can’t get the time off, or some other reason contingent on the situation.

Rumor has it I may or may not have come from gypsy stock but my direct ancestors really like to stay put. Personally I find the whole thing incredibly boring, but the funny thing is it takes a lot more for me to travel than most people.

Traveling by car may seem like the easiest and most obvious choice for a lot of reasons. I have a love/hate relationship with it. If it’s over 6 hours & there are more than 4 people in the car, it really should be a minivan. It’s not physically uncomfortable as much as it is mentally taxing.

However, there is something to be said for setting your own pace. Like stopping whenever you’d like to take care of any need(s) that may come up. Like a dire need to pee without having to worry about one small bathroom everyone else has used in a small time frame. Naps on the road are also more conducive, as are discovering local awesome places to eat, and music to set the mood.

Whenever you find yourself on the verge of a road trip be sure to have a travel buddy. It makes the trip much better, or worse but usually better.

Train travel. This is the mode of transportation I’ve most frequented. I pretty much know it backwards, forwards, and sideways. I also have plenty of stories to prove it. I’ve been on everything from the subway to national train lines. Each has their positives and negatives, like most things. Most times it’s a choice between riding the rails and taking flight for most people. If you’re big on people watching the train is the way to go, by a landslide.

However frequent delays and overcrowding is always hanging over your head, at least if you’re me. I’ve found it’s often a lot easier than one would think for people with disabilities (the actual stations are often another story). But regardless you need to do your research, not all cars have ramp access for example. And if you’re going on a longer trip via train it’s always a good idea to give people a heads up since wheelchair spots are located close to the oversized luggage compartments & they’ll want to have an actual space for you.

Travel buddies are optional. I’m not one to make a habit of it on a train but it helps the trip be “less stale” if you frequently take the same route.

Lastly my personal favorite, up into the wild blue yonder, flight; however, this is when most bad experiences happen. Basically the best advice I can give is plan for the worst (& every possible contingency) & hope for the best. I’ve traveled with and without my wheelchair as well as with and without AFOs so no experience has been the same. Regardless of when & how I fly I try to be as direct & clear as possible with all the staff I come in contact with.

When I was preparing to fly to the west coast I deliberately booked a nonstop flight. It may have cost more but it was a big trip so I wanted to remove as many travel barriers as possible, like missing a connecting flight.

I had originally planned on shipping my chair since I pictured getting though a crowed airport to be easier without it as long as I had the physical stamina. However, one of my contact people told me it would be better to carry it on my person than ship it because there was less of a chance of damage. I understood his point once I saw my frame had scratches after deplaning & my luggage was “lost” after another trip.

If I have to have connecting flights I request someone meet me at the gate to take me to my next flight. For one I don’t want to get lost. Another reason it’s a lot easier to ask for when booking your flight than when you get to the airport, and since it’s only accomplished 50% of the time, just plan ahead to avoid arguments with airport staff.

When flying to my cousin’s wedding in the Midwest I had a connecting flight & little room for error. I requested someone meet me at the gate to take me to my connecting flight. After waiting for everyone else to deplane & having the flight attendant page someone to the gate no one showed up. I was prepared to get to my next gate myself since I was told it wasn’t very far away. Instead the pilot (from my 1st flight) took me to my next gate. Up until then I had no preferences for certain airlines but I do now. How many pilots do you think would do that? (I only wish I had gotten his name to send him a thank you card afterwards)

I’ve done more flying alone than I have with someone(s) else so that’s my comfort level. But if I’m flying with someone(s) I prefer that they’ve flown before. First time flyers take more mental effort from me than I’m usually willing to give.

Traveling with a disability is possible, sometimes enjoyable, and often memorable. It may take some more thought & effort on your part than your peers but it’s defiantly worth it.

I plan on traveling more in my lifetime, once I run out of excuses.

*A similar version of this post first appeared on an old blog on March 8, 2012

Asset Or Barrier?

Not too long after graduation I went to New York City for an interview. It was one of the hottest days, if not the hottest, I’ve ever spent in the city, ever. Typically, I would’ve stayed home blasting the air conditioning, but I had ulterior motive.

I wanted a position.

I found a small volunteer program that I wanted to be a part of and they had invited me to the city for an interview. I decided to ask my best friend to come with me and make a day out of the whole thing, because spending 4 hours on a train for a 1-hour interview didn’t make much sense.

My interview was with 3 people, the recruiter and 2 of the people I would be working with if I was accepted, and it lasted over 2 hours.

I had this thing in the bag. Why else would they keep me for 2 hours if there wasn’t some interest?

A week went by and there was no news. Then there was a rejection letter waiting for me, a hard copy, not the email I was expecting.

It took me a while to figure out where things went south. It took me even longer to know that there was nothing I could’ve done to change the outcome.

During the interview the recruiter kept mentioning how hard it would be to insure me due to my disability. I kept reassuring him that it would be illegal if an insurance company refused to insure me.

Something tells me that this was the reason why I didn’t get the position, although one can never be completely certain.

Over a year later I was sitting in a mentor’s office with my area director for the first of three area director visits, a requirement for the service program that welcomed me with open arms.

During that meeting I remembered that first interview. I saw then what a bad fit that would’ve been for me. I was exactly where I needed to be, even if the journey there wasn’t what I had in mind.

For a long time, I saw having Cerebral Palsy as a barrier that I had to overcome (and even hide) when I should’ve seen it as an asset; it took meeting with my mentor and area director to realize that it could be considered an asset, because that’s what they saw it as.

It’s easy to see CP as a constant barrier. 90% of the focus is on the various potential and actual barriers of living with CP. It’s easy to go with the flow and fall into the negative trap with the majority.

Instead of focusing on what you can’t do or won’t be able to do, shift the focus to the potential gifts of CP.  Everyone has limitations AND gifts, CP or no CP so you shouldn’t use CP as an excuse.

Don’t tell people what you can’t do, tell them what you can do, and then show it.

Be honest about your limitations (but don’t downplay them) and highlight your strengths.

Life is too short to waste time trying to please people who see you (or any part of you) as a hindrance.

Surround yourself with people who see you as an asset, not a barrier than needs to be overcome. They’ll make you a better person and you’ll make them better people.

More importantly, see yourself as a valuable asset because that’s what you are.

*A similar version of this post first appeared on an old blog on March 19, 2014

Being 25 Years Old

25 years is a quarter of a century, which makes it seem like a long time.

In reality 25 years isn’t really that long of a time span.

I thought 25 would mean being an adult, until I was 25 and then I waited to feel like an adult. Now that I’m a few years past 25 I realize how far from being an adult 25 really is, for most people.

Within the context of organized religion 25 years is basically infantile.

Within the smaller context of religious orders 25 years is nearly unheard of.

I still remember when one of my closest friends told me she was entering a convent. I was still in shock when I started to tell people myself, which was probably spurred on by the shocked look I had on my face for God only knows how long.

People mainly wanted to know two things, how old she was and what order she was going to be a part of.

Naturally skepticism followed, because how many women in their early 20s join virtually unknown religious order?

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I, in a desperate attempt to be a good friend, felt the need to defend her choice, even while agreeing with everyone else.

Almost 10 years later I’ve gained more prospective on the situation.

I get “it” now, or at least as much as I can without joining the Sisters myself.

I especially have a greater appreciation for what it takes to create and more importantly sustain a ministry.

Happy 25th Birthday Sisters. May God continue to bless you all & those you serve for many more years to come.

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