It’s All Beautiful
Photo by Linda Gisbrecht
Most of us who now consider ourselves able-bodied will eventually experience one or more disabilities, if we live long enough. Some people use the phrase “temporarily able-bodied” as a reminder of this fact. As I age and my body structures show seven decades of wear and tear, I feel this truth more acutely.
In late May, I traveled to Wallowa Lake in northeastern Oregon with a spiritual group I studied with for many years. The area is within the ancestral home of the Nimiipuu or Nez Perce Tribe. White settlers forcibly removed these Indigenous people from all but a small part of their home territory between 1855-1877, culminating in the Nez Perce War of 1877. In recent years, after long effort, the tribe has re-established a homeland in the Wallowa Mountains, including a small parcel of land near Wallowa Lake.
As I have many times before, I hiked along the Chief Joseph Trail, named for the legendary chief of the Nimiipuu, to the bridge over the Wallowa River. Snowmelt rushed, flowed, leaped, thundered under the bridge toward the lake, filling the riverbed almost to overflowing. Across the bridge, a series of steep switchbacks led up the side of Chief Joseph Mountain. I knew that, above the switchbacks, a large flat rock offered a view of the lake, and a waterfall bisected the trail. I wanted to sit on that rock and look out over the valley.
I wore an offloading knee brace and used hiking poles to reduce pain from bone-on-bone contact in my arthritic left knee. I knew climbing those switchbacks would cost me. Was it worth it? I decided to try, asked the spirits to show me when it was time to turn around, and proceeded slowly up the hill. On the third switchback, I stumbled a bit. A beautiful orange and brown butterfly flew directly in front of me across the path. OK, I thought, this is it. I turned around and picked my way back down the trail.
Disappointed, I reassured myself: I will be able to hike more after I recover from knee replacement surgery this fall and winter. I live within a day’s drive of Wallowa Lake and can come back here. This isn’t my last chance.
But maybe it was. I don’t know.
Just off the trail before the bridge, next to a tall Douglas-fir, a flat rock offered itself, a foot above the raging current. I sat with my back against the tree, mesmerized by the sound and movement of the water, the infinite ways it leaped up and back when it hit an obstacle, a rock or log that resisted its flow. I thought of the many ways I experience resistance to the flow of energy, of life. The obstacles I face in body, mind, emotions, spirit. The arthritis in my knee, the negative thoughts and judgments in my mind. All movements of the water created beauty: the flow and the resistance. It’s all beautiful, I thought. It all simply is. As I sat in awareness of the beauty of the river, the land, my whole body and self, all of creation, my eyes filled with tears, my heart with gratitude.
Thanks to the land and the spirits for creating beauty everywhere and helping me see and know it, even in myself, even in the face of pain. And thanks to the multitude of disabled activists who fought for the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law July 26, 1990; laid their bodies and lives on the line to preserve the Affordable Care Act; and continue to work hard for justice today. We can all express our gratitude by supporting the ongoing struggle for disability rights and by refusing to participate in blatant and subtle words and actions that diminish and discriminate against disabled people. Who are—most of us, over time.