08 April 2012

Living on Boundaries

Growing up as a German immigrant in a small New England town meant not really fitting in anywhere. 

No marshmallow fluff, cocoa crispies or Wonder Bread for us. We ate dark, heavy crusty stuff, with stinky fish from mysterious cans and jars, and delicious -- and untranslatable -- home made food.

But I came to the US when I was less than a year old. I wasn't fluent in German and I didn't really know the culture. So when my family sent me to visit the German cousins, I didn't fit there, either.

It occurs to me that having a chronic illness is a little like being an immigrant: one doesn't fully belong on either side of the cultural divide.

I don't carry a cane or use a wheelchair, or possess any other marker that identifies me to bystanders as disabled. Yet I spend significant portions of each year gripped by illness. I no longer teach three-hour classes, because when I'm sick, I don't have the energy or the breath to go for that long.

I pass into and out of these periods of infirmity. There are also times when I can run, bike, swim, tussle with The Offspring. But those times of apparent health are marked by the awareness that the illness will return, unpredictable in its timing and in its severity.

Even when I'm healthy, I don't live in the country of the well. Yet occupying the territory of disability seems, for part of each year, a kind of untruth. Like Grendel and his mother, I am a mearcstapa, walking the boundaries between.