Blogging in Braille

Anytime I fly somewhere, my boarding pass has a place that says DEAF on it. I don’t know how I got on the grid as the Deaf passenger, and I know other friends who have been Deaf their entire lives – even with no oral skills or desire to communicate any way other than through sign language – and their tickets have never said Deaf. I don’t know how it got on mine, but it is always there.

This is helpful because it makes it easy to ask for help. I rarely need it, but there are times with sudden gate changes or such, when you realize your whole waiting area just got up and started moving down the hall like a herd of cattle. You don’t know why they are leaving the gate everyone has been waiting on, but you know they are moving to some voice overhead that you cannot hear. In those times, it is helpful to have a ticket that says Deaf and get extra help knowing where to go and why.

It is also helpful because it means all airlines, except one, take the time to hand me the pictorial guide of what to do in an emergency on the plane. I don’t really need them to hand it to me, because it is always right there in the seat back pocket. But it is sweet of them to take the extra moment in their busy flight preparations to make sure I am okay and that I understand. I always thank them very kindly, just to encourage them to be so very nice to the next Deaf person… because maybe it will be their first flight, and they might want to know how to turn their seat into a floating device.

But it isn’t always helpful. There is one airline, which I will not mention at this time, that consistently messes it up. So consistently, as in every time – EVERY TIME – every time I ride that one particular airline, they mess up so exactly in the same way that it makes me think they must be trained this way, which means someone has really botched up their training. Seriously botched up their training. This is the airline, as I have blogged (including pictures, as proof of the ridiculous-ness) before when it has happened… this is the airline that gives me the safety information card in Braille.

While I honor and respect Braille, and even studied it as a child in my mother’s libraries, and while I even know so much of it as to be able to recognize a few letters here and there and a few short-cut-code-words, and even know about the different styles and types of braille, and always feel the letters and numbers on the elevator buttons or the hospital signs… as a general rule, braille doesn’t do a lot for Deaf people.

But this one airline, every single time I fly with them, they give me the Braille version of the safety card.

I am glad – even proud – that disability awareness has come so far that the airlines have the safety card in braille. That’s great. It really is.

But it doesn’t do any good for Deaf people.

We like the pretty pictures that are already there in the seat back pocket.

Many Deaf people would really be offended if the airline gave them the braille version, and throw quite a fit – even file some complaints. They would have every right to do so.

I just think it’s ridiculous. I don’t mind the braille card, and it is interesting to see and hold and touch, and sometimes when they just drop it off with me and leave it with me for the whole flight, then it is fun to play with and see how many letters I can figure out and practice the tiny bits of what I remember. It gives me and whoever is sitting next to me a good laugh, and I get an opportunity to share a little disability awareness with my seat partner – educating both about blindness and deafness, and clarifying how most Deaf people don’t need the braille card… which usually leads to a great conversation about blind-deaf people, and I hope in some way I get to change the world a tiny bit through more accurate education. We all learn a little, and we are more aware and more sensitive and more understanding by the time we get off the plane.

Excepting the few times the stewardess has stood there and refused to leave and refused to allow the plane to take off until my fingers had gone over every dot on the page. She didn’t care what I was trying to explain about Deaf people not needing the braille safety card, and she didn’t care about me explaining my language or what I myself voted for as to what I needed. She was just following her rules, without listening to me, and forcing her system on me whether it was helpful or not.

It’s like when I blog something in French or Swahili or Italian or some other language, or when I write about church things. It may not make any sense at all to some of my readers. My patient friends who know me well might enjoy it for the experience, or the cultural exposure, or the historical context, or the appreciation of what is important to me even though it is not part of their life. Other friends may have no need for it, and skip right over it, knowing that sooner or later I will write some silly thing, or some wordy thing, or blog a more fun picture, or whatever they like better. And that’s okay.

There are no friendship requirements for blog-reading.

The blog does not define friendship.

My friends are my friends because we are friends “in real life”, not because of the blog. The blog is just a place, a way, for me to express myself, to practice writing. It is a way for me to write because I need to write like I need to breathe. It is a place for me to journal, to track the unfolding of my life, to document my experiences scrapbook-style, so that I can come back to them later.

Some of my friends read my blog, and some do not. That is okay, too. Some people read my blog but never talk to me in real life, and others read it whom I have never met. A few comment on the blog, many email me privately in response to blogs, some talk to me about them later, and some read but never respond.

It’s up to them. I am not the stewardess forcing a reader to feel every dot on the braille card, and then be held accountable for something in another language. But in Emily World, you never know what might get thrown into the mix, on this adventure for the search of truth, in effort to experience life for all it has to offer.

My blog, over time, has been its own unfolding that has reflected the unfolding of my life. I love that.

I think what I have learned most, in my search for the Truth and for to experience life so fully, is that I have had to redefine both Truth and Life.

I have learned that Life always begets more of itself, and anything that takes away is not life-ness.

I have learned that Truth always sheds light, and anything that brings darkness (or takes away from or limits knowledge) is not truth-ness.

I have learned that you cannot create Life or Truth, if you drown people in braille cards. You can show, and expose, and educate. But you cannot command or force or oppress.

Life and Truth are always invitations.

That is what I have learned since my first blog, back in 2003.

This week celebrates my 8th year blogging!

It has been eight years of writing to find me by expressing me, eight years of the journey that defines Emily World.

This is the second year that I feel like my original questions (about who I am, how to be me, and what this life is meant to be) have been answered, and that living now is about the unfolding of the layers of those answers.

I love that the answers came in year seven. That’s just fun.

This is year two of having the answers, and learning to live in tune with them.

It’s the tuning in that makes all the difference.

Any in-congruence, any dissonance, anything that causes static… is me working against, or away from, myself.

And working against myself, or pulling away from myself, always is destructive instead of “life-giving and strengthening”.

And when I am not life-giving, in the verb sense, when I am not creating, then I am destroying.

And there was so much destruction.

I was so far away from me that it took seven years to find me, and it took the entirety of that seventh year to “coax my spirit back” as they say in South Africa.

Since then, I have found that what I need to do to take care of me, to be the me I was created to be, is actually so very simple despite how complicated we try to make it and despite the distractions thrown at us constantly.

I wrote a few months ago:

When I am very tired,
I still write, as if to hold on to my own survival.
But my writings then are dry recitations of events
knotting together dots of time.

And I know that this is usually a symptom of destroying, instead of creating, or a red-flag that I am not nourishing myself (usually that I need rest or play).

And I know that anytime I am destroying instead of creating, this pushes me away from myself and outside of God.

It pulls me apart, instead of gathering me together at-one (the atonement is at-one-ness, the embrace of the prodigal son and his father, the integration of selves, the agreement of id and ego, the becoming at-one with God).

This pulling-apart is always destructive to me, always leads to some form of bondage.

I do not want to go back there.

I know the life from which I have been rescued, and I do not want to go back there.

I know the destruction I caused back then, and I dare not cause further damage.

I have just coaxed my spirit back to me, and I dare not look back.

It’s how Orpheus lost his wife.  There’s a Valentine’s story for you.

Orpheus was a real person, so everyone thinks except for Aristotle.  Plato wrote of him, Virgil wrote of him, all the earliest writers included him in their tales.

Like the waters of Noah, every culture in every part of the world includes some version of his story.

The ancient Greeks called him Orpheus.  In Japan, he is called Izanagi, in the Sumerian version it is the story of Inanna, to the Mayans he is Ix Chel.  Native Americans know him as Coyote.

He is the archetype of music, and a charmer at that.  He loved his wife more than anything.  Everyone agrees on that much.

The myth part of his story comes in when you read the different versions of the story about what happened to his wife.

She died, and each part of the world has a different version as to how or why she died, but then the story says he went after her.  He played his music to charm the underworld into letting her come back to life, and they agreed.  The only condition was that she had to follow him back, and neither of them could look back until they both had escaped the underworld.

And so he led her, one step at a time, all the way back to life.  He was so excited and relieved to have escaped – and rescued her – from the underworld that he turned around in his excitement… forgetting the agreement was that she, too, must reach the top before they could turn around.  He had turned around soon as he reached the top, but because she was following him, she had not yet reached the top.  He turned to embrace her, and she vanished.

Here is the beautiful music of his story, this piece composed in 1762:

Now THAT is a love song, to give such comfort to a spouse while helping each other escape the underworld.

That is a lot of love, to put out such fear and to ignore such danger and to focus only on each other and helping each other to the top, to help each other back to life again.

The story of Orpheus reminds me of the story of Lot’s wife.

There are times to look back and to see how far you have come and to recognize your progress and to appreciate the unfolding of what has brought you forward thus far.

Progress is good and right and should be celebrated.

Any moving forward-ness means you are creating your life, and that is to be commended and honored for the progress that it is, even the tiniest baby steps.

But there is another kind of looking back that is not helpful, or even dangerous.  It is a more wistful looking back.  It is the kind of looking back that halts your progress forward.

It is the kind of looking back that stops you from moving forward.

It is the holding on to what is yours, despite being told it is dangerous and to leave it behind.  It is like when Rachel stole her father’s idols instead of trusting she would be well and safe and provided for, holding on to the past instead of embracing her new life.  She wasn’t happy in her marriage until she trusted him, trusted God, thinking that somehow holding on to the past would keep her safe, that keeping secrets would give her a backup plan, that holding on to what was (the past) would help define her future (instead of letting the future planned for her unfold).

Many years ago, my friend Laura – who now lives in Colorado with her sweet husband – my original and only friend that I have had since the very first days I ran away from home and off to college – introduced me to the Irish song Caledonia, and I think it has been the theme of all these years of blogging, a symbol of the journey I have lived – with all its ups and downs, with all its amazing memories and deepest of pains, with all the harsh realities of growing up and the healing balm that has come since.   For me, it was a song that was very hard work and expressed the deep grief of letting go of trauma-drama and the destruction I had caused, and finding my way back home again.

Here are the lyrics:

I don’t know if you can see
the changes that have come over me
in these last few days I’ve been afraid
that I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs

that make me think about where I came from
and that’s the reason why I seem so far away today

Let me tell you that I love you
that I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me
and now I’m going home.
If I should become a stranger
know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia has been everything I’ve ever had.

I have moved and have kept on moving
proved the points that needed proving
lost the friends that needed losing
found others on the way.
I have kissed the ladies and left them crying
stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have traveled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
somewhere with the wind.

Let me tell you that I love you
that I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me
and now I’m going home.
If I should become a stranger
know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia has been everything I’ve ever had.

Now I’m sitting here before the fire
the empty room, the forest choir
flames that couldn’t get any higher
they’ve withered, now they’ve gone
but I’m stead thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
when the hands have shaken and the kisses flowed
well, I will disappear

Let me tell you that I love you
that I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me
and now I’m going home.
If I should become a stranger
know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia has been everything I’ve ever had.

I think I knew eight years ago that I had to say goodbye to the world I was living in.  I had entered that world because I had run away from another world, and I couldn’t be what that world needed me to be.  Much of it was very good, and helped me along the way.  Much of it was not.

When I ran away from home at 17, I had to leave because I could no longer save the world.  I had tried my whole life, and in desperation those last two years had gone as mad-Jesus as I could, as if I could force things to right themselves, as if I could keep the plane from taking off until everyone had read the braille safety card.  What broke me, what crushed my spirit, was nothing my family did to me.  The breaking point was realizing that I couldn’t MAKE it happen.  The breaking point was realizing that singing songs couldn’t force other people to be happy, and quoting Bible verses didn’t make other people want to go to church, and my smiling chipper self no longer made people get out of bed in the mornings.

I had thought that was my job.

Since I was a baby in my crib, that was my job.

I smiled, and it made the day start.  It made my mother happy, it made my father happy, and it made my brother happy.  It’s what I did.

It was my job.

But then, my father was gone.

Then my brother grew up and had real life teenage stuff to sort out, just like the rest of us.

Then my mother got ovarian cancer, only nobody knew it yet.

Smiling didn’t help any more.

Smiling didn’t save the world.

That was the only job I had, and it no longer saved the day.

I thought I had failed.

This is all over-simplification, of course, but it is why I ran away.

I could no longer save the world.  I didn’t have the answers anymore.  What I had to offer was no longer useful.  Who I had been, my whole life, was no longer needed (not that I was not needed, I know that now, but at the time what we needed was more than simple smiles) and life’s problems were bigger than what I could resolve or relieve or help.  Not only had I failed, but in this role-ish kind of way, I had ceased to exist.  It was like the Nothing was eating me away.

And so I left.

I had to leave, to survive.

I had to leave, to find the answers.

I had to leave, to find help.

Except all this was in my own teenage head, and so I know it is a God thing I even survived these years.

And because I left – really still only a child – what I found was danger, not answers.

I was Gretel, and birds ate my breadcrumbs.  I could not find my way home again.  I never intended on going so far away, of losing my way, of not finding my way home.

Because I was not with my family, and because I was in a place of not believing I existed, I let other people define me and bounced from one substitute family to another – all of whom wanted something from me when I was already in a place of having nothing left to give.

I wanted help and answers, but had to find them through layers of dung.

It’s no wonder that we all caused so much damage to each other.  I could not be what they needed, and no substitute can replace what should have been or what was meant to be.  It was a sad mess.  I needed to grieve what had been, and what was not.  I needed to deal with the past and move on, not keep digging it open and trying to find ways to re-create it… with each recreation being far more damaging than the last.

This is how I nearly turned to salt, like Lot’s wife.  I forgot that I had gone in search of answers, and instead kept trying to recreate a childhood that no longer existed.  Instead of getting help for now, I got lost in looking back.  Instead of finding answers, I got tangled in other problems. Instead of saving the day, I became the problem.

Writing, I think, helped me find my way out.  Writing helped me gather bits of truth I found along the way, and these bits of truth became my breadcrumbs.  I had wandered far, but slowly found my way.  Each truth led me to the next one, each breadcrumb fed me just enough to be able to find the next. This was my journey home.

As each truth fed me, it brought me life.

As I began to be nourished, one breadcrumb at a time, one friend at a time, one truth at a time, I began to exist.  I began to learn to love and to be loved.  I learned what gave life and what destroyed it.  I learned what strengthened me and what grieved me.  I learned what brought me air, and what stole it.  I learned what freed me to be me, and what oppressed me.  I learned the difference between the damaging nature of secrets, and the empowering nature of the sacred.

I learned that the mad-Jesus of my youth was a perverted invention of man, twisting truths into something else that was not of God.

God is love.

And it was Love that tutored me, ever so patiently, despite myself.

I learned who I was, and who I was not.

I learned who I am, and who I am not.

And Love showed me the way home.

My mother was there.  Not just there, but waiting.

Like the prodigal father, she saw me coming home from a long way off, while I was still far away.

Once I was home, my brother came to see for himself, but then he also welcomed me home.

For me, that was a moment of atonement, a moment of at-one-ment, the night my brother and I talked all the way on a long drive home and then into the late hours on the porch, the moment when we cried and hugged and something bigger than us made us friends again, and gave us the answers we had searched for since we were children.

This is what came of eight years of writing, no matter what was published or not, no matter what was presented in some fancy workshop or not.  Writing brought me home.

I have written my whole life, keeping a journal since the time I was young.  I have bits of these from when I was in first and second grade, though ALL of my journals from second grade through college were lost when I stored them at a piano teacher’s house (she threw them away, long story).  Those are my lost pages, but still I write… though my writing has changed, as I have learned to hold some things sacred.

Because not everybody knows braille.

Today is significant to me in many ways.  It is 16 years since I ran away from home.  It is eight years since starting to blog.  It is one year since really, fully, finding my way home.

16 years.  It is as if I needed two sets of “perfecting”, eight years each, to find my way out.  I needed eight years of wandering to discover I still had a voice, and another eight years of practicing that voice to discover who I was and what I wanted to say.

Never have I said anything in brevity.

Next week I will be 34 years old.  It is the first birthday that has felt “old” to me.  No birthday has bothered me before, but this one is different.  I have grown, somehow.  The last year was spent living, not running away.  The last year was spent being, not reconstructing.  The last year was spent becoming, not remembering (in a Lot’s wife kind of way).

Gordon B. Hinckley said, “We are the product of lives who have touched ours.”  I love this quote, because I feel so many that I loved and that loved me brought me to this point of life-ness.  Even when I did not want to be fed, they fed me.  Even when I did not know how to be led, they led me.  Even when I was very lost, they were kind to me.  Many I had to leave because I was on a journey home, though I didn’t always know it, but I knew to stay in the forest would deprive me of the light and running water of the clearing.  Some people or experiences were outright destructive to me, and I learned how to hold my own, to stand my ground, to define me by who I knew I was and not by what others said or by what happened to me.  These lessons were as valuable as the rest.

What I learned was that home was not some fairytale place in a clearing.

Home was creating my own clearing in the forest, finding my own stream of water, clearing the brush enough to let sunlight through, and filling my walls with bookshelves.

Inside, there is stillness.
Inside, there is peace.
Inside, there is light.

What I learned is that God is Love, and Truth, and Light.

From my journal, before Christmas, before the last surgery:

There is something real about Him, something more than what I have known thus far. He unfolds who He is, this mystery of Being. When I am broken and humbled, when my Lord atones for me so that I am safely covered, when His Spirit makes me pure again, it is in that smallest moment that pulls me close to Him, that unites me with Him, as if I could feel His presence on my skin beyond seeing its whiteness with my eyes. There is this at-one-ness that is as physical as it is spiritual, as if I can see the very math of both priesthoods united in one equation, in one movement of Light.

When I study and study, diving in layer after layer, and wait and pray and ponder, when I ask and pray and look for more, it is then that I find that stillness in the middle. The power of it pushes the storm further away, creating space around me, space that fills with Light from above. When the light comes, He teaches me the same again for it is what I need to know, over and over, because I am so weak and miserable without Him, without His power, without His Spirit. But always, there is more. Time stretches as it unfolds like a scroll, the walls of the storm around me becoming like screens upon which the whole world plays, and I know that I am in a place between time and space. I am tutored then, in what I need to know. Some things, which I have asked, He does confirm and teach me more, granting layers and layers until their is substance to what was only an idea or question. Other things He does deny, correcting me and expounding upon the truth of things, not letting any piece of it vary from how He has said it to be. Sometimes there are people to meet and lessons to take. I cannot speak of these things, not even to write them to myself. All of it is in the other language, which I write down notes of as I remember them, a few words a time granted to me for remembering, for earning it is the proving ground, and helps me treasure them and become more than I was. Other things are more physical, not just ideas, but worlds on the poles and cities in the skies, even now, where physical eyes cannot see, but already they are there, still they are here. Other things are tasks which must be done, and sins that must be prevented for the destruction I would cause. This is not just any world of everyday life, but it is – truly – His world, which He has created for the purpose of even my life to become who He wants me to become, to accomplish some tasks for Him… and this is not to be mocked, not to be taken for granted, not to be wasted.

Any time in this state does make it painful to return, this same squeezing my spirit back into my body as after the illnesses and surgeries of the past. He touches my heart, and He touches my head, that my body can continue for it has already fought beyond what is possible. My body would be finished already were it not for His gift of time, of life. And so the pain of squeezing back into this body does make the pain of my healing head compare to nothing, and I know it heals because He has touched me. And I know He has touched me, because there is work for me to do still yet.

Days and weeks and months and years away are only half a day, and I feel now as if to move through molasses.

Yet what I want to write slips through my fingers like water, and I wonder at the responsibility of my own tiny life, barely anything, and how I will endure yet more (except what easy battles I have had) – and I wonder even of how to remain worthy of His help, which I desperately need, for without Him I can accomplish nothing. I am just a girl, but yet He has called me to be a light.

I can still smile.  Smiling is still my job.  There is still purpose in my existence.

Like a candle on the table, He said, which I just read in 3 Nephi, and reminds me of the New Testament. Do not hide the words, or stop, but share them boldly. Wake them up, fill them with light.

I know that I cannot do this, and I know I do not know how to do this. But I do know that I can stand firmly in the middle of the storm, and that I can hold the storm at bay, by His power, and that I can kneel and pray open an ever widening circle, where His Light and Spirit may come, and that this Light, by His Spirit, can wake them up and help them to see again, to remember, to find their way back to the Light.

But they must look UP, at Him, not me.

This is what will help them keep walking along the rod, to keep moving forward, because we are so close to the Tree.  So close.

Maybe that reads like Braille to you.  That’s okay.  It was for me.

But to you, I say thank you.  Thank you for reading, thank you for being a part of this eight year (or some of you, sixteen years or more) journey of writing.  Thank you for walking alongside me, or before me, or pushing me from behind, or just participating in the sharing of this journey, the adventures of Emily World (despite website problems and changes along the way, and in spite of blogs longer than this one).  Thank you for being breadcrumbs to me, thank you for nourishing me, thank you for giving me life.

For I am, truly, very glad to be alive.

I am glad to be home.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Blogging in Braille — 2 Comments

  1. Happy eight years! I’m so glad I’ve been able to be a friend and a witness to your life in the last decade+. I thank God for all the progress you (and I) have made since those miserable days, and I am truly inspired by you. (nerdy etymology… inspired = breathing in life; opposite of expiring, which is breathing out and dying.) So thanks for breathing life into me, for real.

  2. Loved seeing/hearing Caledonia circle back around. I’ve spent time lately rereading several novels that have made the rounds again in my journey. Those songs, books, movies, poetry, art – those lifetime pieces that continue to speak – pure gift. And of course red sleds on top of hills – moving into and resting in Love at this point, rather than running from or desperately hoping it exists Elsewhere.