Sunday, September 8, 2013

Blind, Deaf, or Paralyzed? What Would You Choose?

In grade six our teacher Mr. Keast 
shared a poem with our class 
that has haunted me throughout my life.

It is a poem about 
how your life can change in a heartbeat
and about one of the most difficult decisions
you can make in a dozen lifetimes. 

Two young men, Bobbie and David, 
spend a summer in the Canadian Rockies
cutting trails for the Survey. 

Seal of the Geological Survey of Canada
Source:  Wikipedia

On the weekends David teaches 
his friend Bobbie (the poem's narrator)
the joys of mountain-climbing
and the secrets of the rocky terrain.

Sawback Range and Bow Valley
from Castle Mountain
Source:  Dru!/flickr

During an attempt to climb The Finger,
a peak in the Sawback Range of Alberta, 
Bobbie and David fight their way to the top
through a rock chimney.

The Finger, Alberta
Source:  Peakfinder

They build a cairn at the top of The Finger.
Bobbie looks to the north and Mount Assiniboine,
one of his footholds gives, 
and he shouts to David.

Mount Assiniboine, Alberta, Canada
Source:  Wikimedia

David steadies Bobbie, but his foothold fails,
and he falls to a ledge fifty feet below.

Somehow Bobbie manages to reach the ledge
where David lies bleeding and paralyzed.
David begs Bobbie to push him 
over the edge of the ledge
so he can fall to his death six hundred feet below.
David cannot bear the thought 
of spending his life in a wheelchair.

Bobbie must decide:
leave David and go for help,
or push his friend over the edge to his death,
fully realizing that had he had tested his own holds
he would not have slipped
and David would not have fallen.

Yes, I remember the agonizing choice Bobbie faced;
but, even more, I remember David's wish to die
when faced with paralysis.
That wish haunted me for years,
and even more so after I married my first husband,
a quadriplegic.
Ray fought to survive and to live life as fully as possible.
David wanted to die.

I have often thought 
What would I do if faced with such choices?
Push David over the edge or go for help?
Fight to live or beg to die?

I have lived long enough to know
that decisions like these are impossible to make
until one is actually facing them.
I have surprised myself too many times
when the hypothetical became real
to judge the difficult decisions others make.

I have met many courageous handicapped individuals,
in particular, Vietnam veterans in the spinal cord ward
of the Long Beach Veterans Hospital.
I have worked with blind and deaf students
during my teaching career.
And I have always wondered how I would face such challenges.

Sometimes when I'm walking in nature I ask myself
What would be worse, 
to be blind, to be deaf, or to be paralyzed?
Never to see billowing cumulous clouds in a blue sky,
never to hear a sweet meadowlark singing,
or never to walk among the flowers and grasses of the high plains 
and feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face.

The High Plains Near My Home

I think about these things because I am blessed
to live the life I am living.
I have known so many brave individuals
who face unimaginable challenges.
What would I do in their circumstances?
I can guess; but I can never know
unless I have to walk one of those hard paths.

Last week I watched a powerful and emotional performance
on So You Think You Can Dance.
To see the dancers, 
to hear the music, 
and to feel their movements on the stage
really made me think of Bobbie and David
on that ledge on The Finger.

After several days of walking on the high plains
and thinking about these things,
I searched yet again for the poem 
I've tried to find for decades.
I couldn't remember the title or the poet.

And suddenly there it was:
David by Earle Birney.

That choice on a mountain ledge that haunted me so
turned out to be written by a distinguished Canadian poet.

It was stunning to read David again
and to realize that the last time I read it
I did not know that I would study geology,
hike in sight of Mount Assiniboine,
marry a paralyzed paratrooper,
or climb Colorado Fourteeners.
I had not truly experienced love and grief
or fully realized what a miracle life is.

I am grateful for the abundance of blessings
that have graced my life.

What did Bobbie choose to do?
Here is a link to Earle Birney's poem David

Poet and novelist Earle Birney won 
Canada's highest literary honor,
the Governor General's Award, 
two times for his poetry.

"Earle both climbed and was a mountain. 
He cast a very long shadow 
and he was central in shaping modern Canadian literature. 
Most of all, 
he had a gift for friendship that he liberally shared."
Wailan Low  
Quotation Source:  Canadian Poetry Online 

Following are the dance and the song
that really impacted me last week:

Amy Yakima and Robert Roldan
Performing on So You Think You Can Dance
Note:  The last half of the video is the judges' commentary.

The Full Recording of
Say Something
by A Great Big World
Note:  This is just the song with an image.

What would you choose?
Push David over the edge or go for help?
Fight to live or beg to die?
What would be worse, 
to be blind, to be deaf, or to be paralyzed? 


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for your answer, Adam. I'm not sure, myself. I really love music and so many other sounds. Take care!

  2. Wow, that poem is intense! I can see why it's stayed with you after all this time. I can't say how I would react....but I do know that person (the David) would have to be damned convincing to make me give the final push.

    1. Hi Audrey!
      Thanks for your answer! I was excited to see that you chose to read "David."

      Tough questions. I'm not sure of my answers. I had the means and opportunity to end my mother's life when her kidneys were failing, and I couldn't. I wanted every precious moment with her that I could have. But she wasn't asking, and I was selfish.

      The two poems that profoundly affected me from elementary school were "David" and In "Flanders Fields." I am so thankful that I finally found "David" again. What I hadn't remembered about "David" was the beauty of the poem's language and the great love for the Rockies that Earle Birney expressed in the poem. And there is wonderful geology in it that I didn't recognize as a sixth grader.

      Have a great day, Audrey!

  3. Rather be deaf for sure. Other two options both suck. Been down to the point of wanting someone to shoot me. So if he was convincing enough, I'd push him, but first I'd let him truly think about it.

    1. Hi Pat!
      I'm glad that you changed your mind or that you weren't convincing enough. The world would have missed out on your wit and clever rhyming point of view ~ among other things I'm sure!

      The poem was highly controversial when I was in sixth grade because its theme was euthanasia. It is much more acceptable decades later to discuss and to consider euthanasia. Being married to a quadriplegic only made the question tougher for me to answer.

      On a lighter note, I hope you are having fun in the sun at your bay today!

  4. Wow, this is so intense! It's much too difficult to choose what I would do because what we think/hope we'll do, and what we will actually do may be different in real time. I cannot imagine pushing him over the edge, and I think I'd go for help. But faced with the situation and all the profound emotions involved, would I really do that?

    1. Hi, Martha! Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You said it succinctly. We really can't know until we're in a situation for real. I'm really looking forward to your "Chuckles and Chortles" after all the heavier things I've been thinking about! Have a great week!

  5. To hard for me to think about at the moment.

    1. Hi GT! And I totally get your response! Have a happy week!

  6. Powerful. I've had to say out loud to doctors 'do not resuscitate' on two occasions. There is no pain like the pain of saying those words because they live in a little spot in your heart for ever after but the person's wishes have to be respected.

    1. Hi Francie! Thanks for your comment. What a difficult position you were in, and yet you did the right thing. Let's hope you don't have to carry that responsibility again. It seems that the longer we live, the tougher we have to be and the more compassionate we have to be. I hope that you are enjoying a good week. Take care!

  7. First let me take a deep breath, after reading that poem.... Wow. In so many ways. Wow.

    To answer (or not) your question: I have been blinded temporarily in one eye due to a raging infection - with the possibility of it spreading to the other eye. It was a dreadful experience, and the contemplation of its becoming permanent was horrible. I can't say I would choose that.

    My husband was deafened in one ear by the removal of a brain tumour. This had the effect of giving him a kind of overly sensitive super-hearing in the other ear, which is very uncomfortable for him to live with. He either hears nothing, or things are garbled, or they are unbearably loud. I've seen his frustration at not being able to properly appreciate good music or interpret the sounds around him. So deafness is also a very unpleasant option.

    Within a year of the above-mentioned brain tumour removal, we were swimming with a friend when he broke his neck in a diving accident. I held his baby while his wife watched him loaded into a helicopter for the flight to the hospital. He became a paraplegic, became addicted to drugs, was divorced by his wife and ended by taking his own life. So - paralysis not the first choice either.

    How can we choose between three dreadful things? We can't. We can only take what God gives and try to make the best of it, trusting Him for the grace to do so.

    Whew, that was a long comment!

    P.S. I served a short internship at the Long Beach VA Hospital decades ago - your mention of it brought back memories. :)

    1. Hi Sue!
      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I couldn't choose any of them over the other. Like you, I could only hope that I would make the best I could of a situation with the help of my faith and my family.

      The story about your friend breaking his neck in a diving accident really hit home. My first husband and I had a friend who had that happen to him. I lost track of him a couple of decades ago, but it was such a struggle for him. My husband suffered incredible pain from his injuries. He couldn't feel much of his body, but there were many times when he felt like his entire body was on fire. The doctors couldn't effectively control his pain, so he began using marijuana to control it. It was downhill from there. His drug use (and dealing in drugs) was what ended our marriage. He died over twenty years ago, but I still feel sad about how it all turned out.

      I'm so glad that you found reading the poem worth your effort. Reading it again after so long ago was strange. I had no inkling of where my life would go, and the poem means so much more to me now than before. I had never even seen a mountain then!

      The Long Beach VA was a good, good hospital. My husband used to say that if it hadn't been for the L B VA, he wouldn't have made it.

      Take care!

  8. I pray I never have to make the choice, but if I did, I would choose deafness. I could learn to read lips, and feel music in my voice, hear tone in body language... I don't know what life would be like if I wasn't capable of writing and sharing. I know many blind people have a complete and fulfill life, but at 36-years-old, if I had to choose, I would let go of my hearing.

    What a difficult post...

    1. Thanks for your comment, Magaly! Like you, I can't imagine not being able to write and share. Expressing myself through writing is one of the great joys in my life. Let's hope we never lose that ability! Have a great evening!

  9. Mrs. Micawber sent me over, and now this poem is haunting me. I'm so grateful I've never been faced with such a choice, but like Mrs. M, I think I'd have to leave it in God's hand and just try to make the best lemonade I could, regardless of the lemons I'm given. What a provoking post and poem. Thank you for pushing me one day further from Alzheimer's. :)

    1. Hi Snowcatcher!
      What a great name! Thanks for visiting my blog! I'm with you ~ with God's help make lemonade!

      I'm glad that you appreciated the poem. And I'm so glad I finally found it. Every line just seems so powerful to me now. Even something like the line, "Letters delivered to man from the Cambrian waves," which would have meant little to me as a sixth grader, slammed me now because I have seen the Burgess shale and studied its amazing Cambrian fauna. Line after line after line ~ Wow! I'll never lose the title or the name of the poet now!

      I'm all for pushing back Alzheimer's! Bring on the challenging texts! Take care!

  10. I AM speechless ~~ I will come back to comment ~~ wiping away tears.

    1. Hi Ron! Sorry about the tears ~ Sometimes I can't help thinking about things and sharing them! Have a sunny week! We've got rain! Take care!

    2. There now (a few hours later and more composed)....

      You see when I read everything up to Amy and Robert's dance I was flipping back and forth with so many ????'s then POW there it was THE DANCE and the fact that Robert had a serious injury June 2012 and he is back dancing as if nothing had happened except you can see his face(which tells it all). I couldn't control my emotions. The videos are so powerful and this year's SYTYCDance just grabs me/us and won't let me/us go. Dance and Movement, telling a story about emotions/experiences/life is so much more powerful, to me than other mediums. Twitch / Melanie and many others have really made my life that much more fulfilled. They don't know it but I know it. Yes, we saw the finale and man oh man did you see Tucker/Robert's dance ~~ again ~~ unreal. With all this said, I really can't answer your question. Yes, I've been put the same position as you with a parent and we(Jim and I) had to make THE decision. We did make it and moved forward. I believe that since that point in time 1998 I can honestly say that if I needed to do it again, I could and feel good about it. But we won't go there for now, live in the moment and enjoy.


    3. Thanks for sharing this, Ron! Wow!
      It was that dance that sent my mind spinning. It slammed me, and at first I couldn't understand why it was bringing all these thoughts to the forefront. Robert's return to the stage, the gorgeous movement, the emotion and vulnerability of the two dancers, the words of the song that definitely brought back memories, then the words of the song that I could equally apply to what happened on the ledge, the actual music ~ it was a powerful experience ~ so I processed it all by going out onto the dirt road with my camera and walking, walking.

      Absolutely live in the moment and enjoy. I always think whatever happens after this life almost doesn't matter because I got to BE!

      I, of course, have the finale taped and last week's too, so I can see the dances again and again. And yes, Tucker's and Robert's dance was magnificent! I was actually thinking of you and Jim. The dancers' stories, and the choreographer's too ~ so difficult, but so empowering! Wow!

      What a joy it must be to dance and move like that. It would have been amazing to be Amy for that dance ~ just once! I'm a lousy dancer ~ although I have no problem putting on a CD, turing it up loud, and dancing when no one is here!
      It is so fun. If I ever won the Lotto, I would go take dancing lessons from Tony Dovolani! He's an amazing teacher!

      All we can do is flounder through difficult things the best way we know how and be gentle with ourselves.
      Take care!

  11. Louise, I can see from this thought-provoking post that this would be a very difficult choice for you. You have the knack of grasping in your the palm of your hand the true essence of what life really means. That sounds a bit corny I know but your intensity and passion for life is laid out for us all to see and enjoy, or to contemplate and shed some tears. I so wish you were one of my teachers Louise. In a way you are I guess.
    What would I do? If I knew my friend very well, and I knew this is what he wanted, then I would do what he asked....I'd push him. But as you said until I was in that situation it is hard to say what one would really do.
    Now if I was on that ledge I would want my friend to go for help and hope for the best.
    Blind, deaf or quadriplegic? Whichever one I had the misfortune of getting I can only hope that I would get on with life as best I could. If 'minor injuries' and 'conditions' are any indication, I think most of us try our best to adapt to whatever life 'throws at us'.
    That dance was wonderful to watch last week. We loved it as well.
    have a wonderful week Louise.

    1. Thanks, Jim, for this kind and thoughtful comment. I know that you are someone who has fought back from something very challenging, so it doesn't surprise me to hear that you would want your friend to go for help or to deal with whatever was thrown your way. The finale of SYTYCD last night was awesome. I hope that you and Ron got to watch it! I've got it taped so I can watch again (and again!). I hope you are having a really good day!

  12. I don't know if I could make a decision like that. We're pretty lucky aren't we?

    1. We are so lucky, Sandra. There, but for the Grace of God, go I. I've met the most incredible people dealing with such difficult things. Their courage and strength always amazes me! Even though my first husband's life ended tragically, he was a magnificent human being. Take care!

  13. I honestly cannot answer this question. This is a beautiful and thought-provoking post. The photos are gorgeous. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you for the kind comment, Linda. I can't answer my question either! I am so grateful for the gift of each day. I hope you are having a happy evening!

  14. Yikes. I would never push David over. What's the point in continuing to live if you can't live with yourself?

  15. Hi Donna! That's just it ~ whatever you choose, you have to be able to live with yourself. I don't think Bobbie lived easily with his choice! Have a great evening!


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