I left the house early this morning to meet my friend Tim for a ski. It was cold and dark and blustery; in the beam of my headlamp, I could see new-fallen snow being tossed and tumbled by the wind, lifted from the ground and sent swirling, only to be deposited anew as each gust subsided.
I drove slowly through the dark, the roads snow-covered and slick, our little two-wheel drive car struggling to gain traction on the steep pitch past the intersection of Route 16 and the Bend Road. At the top of the hill, I happened upon a ditch-stuck car, and slowed to offer assistance, but the driver waved me on. He’d already summoned what help he needed.
On the radio, I listened to an interview with a transgender boxer, who’d recently won his first professional bout as a male fighter. He told of how in the aftermath of his win, during an interview from the ring, there was booing and jeering from the crowd, and then they played a piece of audio from the interview, and I could hear the booing and jeering, and the boxer – Patricio Manuel is his name – say I hear some fans aren’t happy. It’s ok, I’ll be back. I’ll make you happy then.
Then I thought back to weekend, when my older son and I had traveled to a small bar and music venue in Winooski to see a show by band Rough Francis. Rough Francis plays very, very loud music – punk, I guess you’d call it, if you had to call it anything at all – and it’s not really my cup of tea, but my son was intrigued, and because he was intrigued, I was intrigued, and so we found ourselves crammed into a crowd of Rough Francis fans carooming around the room, fully immersed in the noise and energy of the moment, bouncing and bumping and slamming off one another with seemingly little concern for trifling details like, oh, I don’t know, acute physical injury. Though to be honest, I mostly stuck to the fringes, leaning against a wall and fiddling with my earplugs in a mostly-vain attempt to temper the tsunami of sound. And so it came to be that I watched as a middle-aged man in the midst of the fray discarded first his jacket, and then the shirt beneath, his upper body now naked, and this might have been unremarkable but for the fact that he was missing an arm; there was just a briefest stub of an appendage where his arm once was (or maybe never was). But still the thing that struck me most was his absolute unself-consciousness at displaying the truth of his body. The truth of himself.
And so driving in the dark to meet my friend Tim, the words of Patricio Manuel still tumbling in my mind, I could think only of courage, and how little I know of how it must feel to be truly courageous, to follow and live a truth in the face of adversity and even outright hostility. I’m so used to people hating my very existence, Patricio said to the host, and there wasn’t even a whisper of anger or fear or malice in his voice. And the shirtless, one-armed man, spinning and tumbling around the room, not unlike this morning’s wind-swirled snow, the courage to reveal the truth that it’s not that there was no arm where an arm was supposed to be, but that there was no arm where we think an arm is supposed to be.
The skiing, it should be said, was excellent.