The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Saturday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central Time (8-11pm Eastern Time) on ShockNetRadio.com.
I am a pirate. I have a neurological injury in my left foot, which makes me walk like I have a peg leg. And I have a bloody “floater” in the center of my right eye, so I might as well wear an eye patch. I haven’t literally started robbing ships at sea… or even stealing copyrighted material. Although, a case could be made that American Heathen is “pirate radio”!
What’s really bothering me is that I seem to have come face to face with my own mortality. I always knew in theory that I would have to do this some day. It has been a struggle reconciling my (admittedly minor) handicaps with my firm belief that I am immortal and indestructible.
My quality of life has been affected. I find I’m often swatting imaginary flies off of me... only to rediscover that they are floating inside my eyeball. I’m reminded of the clerics who took their first look through Galileo’s telescope – and were convinced that the planets that popped into view must be some artifact inside the device.
As for my foot, plantar fasciitis makes every step painful, and I love climbing the rocks at Cunningham Falls, and hiking the trails at Oregon Ridge. I’m reminded that Charles Dickens enjoyed the palliative effect of a stroll from London to the coast in 19th century England. Me? I limp more as I walk less.
If I were a different person, one more patient, I might be more accepting of the vicissitudes of bodily aging. But in my mind I am still that teenager who drives aggressively and lives recklessly. If I were a different person, one more vulnerable to the god delusion, I might believe that my atheism has rewarded me with divine disfavor – until I recollect that if God were truly angry with my heresy, he is being uncharacteristically subtle with his punishment!
I reflect that in my belief system, I get one shot to make a life worth my living it. If my life is to continue to be worthwhile, I might be persuaded to follow the unofficial Marine mantra: “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.”* Or, to borrow a grape from Paul Masson, I will not die before my time.
The pain I can handle. But what about the vision thing? My background includes 14 years working with, and for, blind people. One thing blind people have taught me is to look for alternative methods for achieving the same end. Furthermore, you don’t expect the world to adapt to you: you must adapt to the world. Now it takes a lot more of my attention while driving to avoid hitting or getting hit by something my right eye would normally catch.
No, I’m not going to go all “politically correct” and avoid the word normal. It is normal to see clearly and walk without a painful limp. Before my afflictions, I did not consider myself the “temporarily able-bodied.” I am what I am: a partially blind gimp. Or a pirate.
But I do have some moments, moments in which I think this may be the best life is going to be for me from now on. My podiatrist will not tell me when my foot may get better. My retinal specialist has shot my torn retina twice (painfully) with a laser – but still will not tell me when or if unclouded vision will return. This is depressing. Occasionally I find myself in need of reassurance. And I don’t even have faith to sustain me!
What keeps me going? Family, friends, books and music help. So does work, which includes helping other people. But the strongest sustainer I’ve found is my rock-solid belief that, no matter what handicap life throws at me, there is only one direction to go: forward. I have no choice but to accept my limitations. I look for the positive. I do not let the memory of the perfect be anathema on the good. I laugh, mostly at myself. And I recall that life is always evolving, so why should I be different?
Aye, I’m a pirate. I’m already auditioning parrots to sit on my shoulder. I walk with a limp, but with a swig of rum and a swagger I adapt and overcome. As for my eye, I am improvising until it gets better. I’ll have to wait. And see.
*“Improvise, Adapt and Overcome” is the unofficial mantra of the Marine Corps, made popular by Clint Eastwood’s 1986 movie, Heartbreak Ridge, and based on the observation that the Corps generally received Army hand-me-downs and the troops were poorly equipped.
Copyright © 2012 Ronald Bruce Meyer. To hear an audio version of this Reflection, click on this link: I Am a Pirate
What the Encyclopedia Britannica doesn't mention is the Rationalist philosophy evident in “Till Eulenspiegels Merry Pranks.”