THE UNHOLY CROSS — A SHORT STORY, PART TWO

Read The Unholy Cross, Part One here.

TRIAL

Pilate sits on an adorned chair, the pride of a Roman etched in his every feature. But in his eyes, there is a veiled glint of kindness, the glitter of hope that perhaps he will judge not as a Roman, but as a man. Attendants surround him, awaiting his command. With a sweeping gesture, he dismisses their attention and they scatter to their places about the room.
“State the case,” Pilate commands, his voice loud and abrupt.
The centurion who had gone in ahead of Katriel steps forward and speaks. “This man is convicted of murdering a Roman spy at just before dawn this very morning. There are witnesses who are willing to testify.” Katriel blinks with surprise. A witness? Was he not alone? Did he not examine his surroundings before he stabbed his brother dead? He glances about himself, scanning the Praetorium for the witness to come forward. He hopes with fading optimism that it is not who he suspects.
But it is. Eshkol emerges from the back of the company of soldiers and with confident strides, approaches the governor. As he opens his mouth to begin, he shoots one final glance toward Katriel, the smile of betrayal displayed unashamedly on his face.
“Governor Pilate, this man is indeed guilty of murder. I witnessed it with my own eyes, only an hour or two ago.” He clears his throat and continues. “I was on my way to my father’s house, having just returned from a long journey when I heard the blood-curdling shrieks of a man. I didn’t think anything of it at first I admit, but when it persisted and became ever more despairing, I made up my mind to investigate. I followed the sound to the edge of the city, just on the border of where I happen to know the victim’s home lies—”
“How do you know this?”
“I was brought up in the same neighbourhood, governor. The victim, his murderer and I were friends as children.”
“I see. Go on.”
“Here, I witnessed this man deliver the fatal blow.”
“How did he perform the murder?” Pilate’s voice is stable as he makes his inquiries, but Katriel is not so fortunate. His knees tremble, his vision blurs, and it is only the sharp grasp of a soldier that keeps him from collapsing.
“It was a knife. He stabbed the man numerous times in the heart and the side. Once he made certain his work was completed, he drew the knife up into his cloak and left, leaving the body behind a wall to decay.”
“What happened then?”
Eshkol’s eyes are fixed on the Prefect, his zeal evident in his gaze. His tale continues. “As quietly as I could, I followed him. When I realized he was heading toward the gates that lead out of the city, I left and went directly and gathered this company of men. They joined me in my pursuit and we did manage to overtake him. We captured him and brought him here to you for his just punishment.”
The room is quiet, not an exhalation to be heard. Even the murmur of the crowd in the courtyard dissipates against the explosive silence within. Within the room yes, but in Katriel’s heart, it is deeper, more despairing.
Was this the friend who had suffered imprisonment at his side? The man who aided him in his escape? Who time and time again, tried to turn him back to the god of his childhood? The one he professed to believe in, but stands and sentences his friend to death? Katriel’s mind begins to spin, a whirlwind that captures his thoughts and ruffles them beyond recognition. He is betrayed.
“If you have further need of evidence, governor Pilate, you may merely ask this man for the knife.” Katriel’s whole being goes still. He can feel the knife’s cool blade against his forearm. If Eshkol’s account is not enough to secure the him, this would be.
“Prisoner, remove your cloak. Let me see what is beneath.” Impatient for the trial to end, a soldier rips Katriel’s cloak from his shoulders and it lands on the floor in a heap. The knife clatters to the floor, loud and condemning. The entire room gravitates to it as a collective gasp is inhaled.
“It is final.” Pilate now stands and his attendants draw near. “Katriel Ben Rachamin, you are sentenced to death by crucifixion for the murder of your brother, Omer Ben Rachamin. Within the hour! You are dismissed.”

GOLGOTHA

With his hands tied, Katriel weaves between the remnants of the crowd that had called so fervently for the execution of the blasphemer. The man himself is nowhere to be seen—Katriel assumes now that the sentence was passed and he is on his way to the cross. Amidst the reality of his own peril, Katriel cannot help but marvel at the other prisoner’s integrity, silent in the face of his crimes and such willingness to take the beating his guards deemed necessary. What kind of a man is this?
Rising beneath the golden sun of blooming day, Katriel’s eyes find his destiny—Golgotha. At the top of this hill he knows, he will die.
The patibulum he carries on his shoulders teeters, the effect wobbling Katriel’s legs. Blood from his scourging runs from his shoulders, down his thighs and calves and leaves soggy imprints in the dirt beneath him. Lightheaded and dizzy, he is nearly completely unaware of life beyond his pain.
They reach the peak of the hill and the cross bar on Katriel’s shoulders is lifted and tacked to the stipe. In his delirium, Katriel does not notice a third cross being mounted in line with his and the blasphemer’s. At each, a company of Roman soldiers meticulously perform their duty.
“Murder a Roman, will you? Then feel the wrath of Rome! May it follow you to hell and torment you there for all eternity!” The centurion draws out two nails and with not a care nor concern, pounds them through Katriel’s wrists. He cries out in anguish. “That is just the beginning of what you will suffer for your crime.” The centurion spits in his face and laughs mockingly.
Nails are driven into his feet, pinning him to the upright beam of the cross. He is overcome with pain; he can no longer discern where it stems from, only that it is consuming him like a raging fire. His weight hangs solely from his wrists, his breaths shallow and quick. How long will it take?
The other prisoners are hung on their crosses, their shrieks and screams melding with Katriel’s. The criminal on the third cross is muttering between gasps. Katriel tries to focus on it, on anything to distract him from the excruciating pain.
“Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us! Where’s your power now, oh mighty King?” The criminal’s taunts are hardly audible above the blood in Katriel’s ears, the pain screaming up at him from every fibre of his being. But as he hangs there, the fingertips of Death grazing his skin, his mind flashes to a memory.
A father bends over his son, the six year old’s fingers cold and fragile in his. Looking straight into his son’s eyes—the same gentle, earnest eyes of his mother—Rachamin begins to speak. “Katriel, listen to me. I do not take pleasure in punishing you, but it needed to be done. You were wrong to say those things to Omer. Your words hurt him very deeply. You know I still love you, don’t you?” The tiny head nodded. “But do you know who will love you even when it’s hard for me to love you well?”
“Who?”
“God. He will always love you. Even if you have nobody left to turn to, even when you’re scared he doesn’t want you anymore. He will love you. I want you to remember that. Will you do that for me?”
“Yes, Father. I’ll remember.” The man leans down and ruffles the child’s hair, a smile spreading across his face.
The memory fades and Katriel’s focus is drawn once more to the victim on the third cross. Still hurling insults, but the silent sufferer on the center cross does not reply.
Defend him. It overwhelms Katriel, even stronger than the pain emanating from his wrists and feet. He shouts with all his strength: “Quiet! That man has done nothing wrong, unlike you and I. Don’t you fear God? We’re all suffering the same sentence, but ours is fair. Now quiet. Leave him to die in peace.” Lowering his voice so only the man next to him can hear, Katriel whispers, “If you are the son of God, if you are the Christ, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
When he speaks, it is like Katriel’s heart is both broken and restored in one breath. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Katriel stops fighting. He breathes his last and the pain ends.

FOREVER

“Come in, my son. Be welcomed in my name.” The voice envelops the new arrival. Comfort, joy and awe fill his being, the reality of his new life abounding in his soul.
He gazes down at his hands in disbelief. No nails, no wounds. No remnant of the pain that was the passageway to paradise. He strokes his palm with a gentle finger—soft, like silk, tender.
New. Everything is new. He is new.
He looks up to the sky, yet somehow, he cannot define the border between earth and sky. Does it go on forever?
As though reading his thoughts, the voice wraps itself around him and whispers, “It does, my son. As do you. And I. Here, together, we shall go on forever.”

THE WAY WE ALMOST WEREN’T

It would be easier to tell you the story of how my guide dog, Saint, and I met and became a team. Spoiler, it involves a lot of cuddles, kisses, wags, wiggles, and lots and lots of love. It’s straightforward and predictable: I arrived at GDB for training, I was given the leash of my dream match, and two weeks later, we flew home to begin our life together.

But that’s not the story I’m telling today. Rather, this is the story of how we almost weren’t.

Tears on Tuesday

It was the Tuesday of the second week and we had only three days until our flight home. By this time in the program, we were scheduled to be working on training in environments specific to our home life. For me, that entailed walking along some trails, rough terrain and navigating through chairs, tables and the crowds in coffee shops.

But Tuesday afternoon, while my fellow clients and their dogs headed out to work on various routes, my instructor, team supervisor and I headed to a local park to walk a long, looping path. It was half concrete and half gravel, nothing complex or difficult to navigate. We were there to work on pace.

Pace is a crucial aspect of matching the right dog to the right handler. If the speed at which the handler walks is faster than the dog, a myriad of issues can arise. The dog may begin slowing down because of forward pressure on the harness handle. The dog may also feel defeated and wonder, “if my handler is going to walk ahead of me anyway, then what am I guiding for?” Additionally, with a slower dog, the handler is often “hopping-up” the dog—hopp-up being the command to go faster. Alternatively, if the handler walks slower than their guide dog, the handler is continually asking their dog to “steady” or slow down. While this may seem less problematic than having a slow dog with a fast handler, neither are ideal and the pace needs to be matched appropriately.

My first guide dog and I were matched primarily for my mental and emotional health. I was struggling significantly with anxiety and wasn’t terribly active. Therefore, they matched me with Cricket who was very chill, laid-back and cool with lazy days in. But as time went on, I noticed that our pace wasn’t cohesive.

I was walking faster than Cricket was and consistently asking him to hopp-up. In response, Cricket would slow, and when I slowed to try and match, he would slow to a stop. Pushing the harness handle forward and simply walking at my preferred pace yielded only a moment of catch up before he would slow again. It was a source of constant frustration in our teamwork and a mishandling of the situation on my part.

But after Cricket’s retirement, my lifestyle changed and so did what I needed in a guide dog. When asked what I was looking for, I said simply that I wanted a dog with lots of energy and a fast pace.

Fast forward to week one of training and Saint was all that I had hoped for and then some. He had a good pace that matched mine and lots of energy and enthusiasm for the job. At our mid-training meeting, my instructor said that she was confident Saint would be going home with me.

But by Tuesday, we knew something wasn’t working.

Saint had slowed down, even from his recorded pace during his training, and my instructor noted how often I was hopping him up on our routes. I was befuddled; our first week had gone off perfectly. But it was now a problem.

The pattern was all too familiar. I hopped him up, he slowed, and we both got frustrated. It was happening again.

So on Tuesday afternoon, we were at the park, hoping that on a straight and easy-to-navigate path, Saint would get into his groove. We called it “the wiggle,” and feeling that dance in the harness was what I so desperately wanted.

He didn’t. And when we walked an in-town route afterwards, the result was the same.

My heart was sinking. My stomach was in knots, and the only sound on the drive back to the school was the slight gasping of my breath as I tried not to completely break down. No one said it out loud, but the question hung over us like a dense fog:

Did I have to give Saint up?

In the fireplace room, my instructor and supervisor sat me down and laid out my options. There were three:

  • I could keep Saint, so long as I accepted his slower pace and was content to work with him this way.
  • I could go home without a dog and come back to training when they had a dog who walked my preferred pace.
  • Or, I could try out a new dog, because they just happened to have one in the kennel who had just graduated and walked that fast pace.

Tuesday night was one of the hardest nights of my life. Every time I ran my fingers over Saint’s silky fur, or got a surprise kiss on the face, I started sobbing. I called my fiancé and my parents, trying to process what was happening, but I couldn’t. My heart was breaking and I could do nothing but cry and whimper a prayer of “help me, God.”

Was this really my last night with Saint?

Whirlwind on Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, I put Saint into a crate at the downtown training lounge and picked up the harness handle of a dog with tufty, yellow fur and boundless energy. When we set out on our route, it was obvious from the get-go that he had the pace I was searching for.

Maybe even a bit too fast. But then, it was easier to slow a dog down than to speed them up. This dog had the energy and the pace I wanted… but Saint was my baby. Already, we’d bonded on such a deep, emotional level and I couldn’t imagine my life without him. Saint was everything I’d dreamed about but hadn’t dared to say out loud; he was a boy, a yellow lab, an enthusiastic worker and a snuggler. But working with a guide dog wasn’t about snuggles, but being guided safely and independently through the world.

I was torn. Seeing the struggle, my team supervisor offered to have me walk one last route with Saint before making my final decision. But before we took off, I took a minute to talk to God. I said, “God, I need an answer on this walk. I’m so confused and I don’t know which dog to choose. But you know. If it’s going to be Saint, you need to make it clear on this walk.” Then I picked up the handle and said, “Saint, forward.”

It couldn’t have been clearer. And I couldn’t stop the smile from taking over my whole face. My supervisor, observing from across the way, said that this walk either made my decision so much harder or so easy.

“Easy,” I said. “God gave me my answer. I want Saint.”

Love for a Lifetime

It feels impossible to think that I may have come home with a different dog, or no dog at all. Both were very real possibilities. My instructor told me that dog switches happen almost every class, so I wouldn’t have been the first.

But I was among the minority to keep the dog that I was originally issued. And in the month since we came home, I’m so thankful I did.

Saint is my baby. Once I took the pressure off of us to keep up a faster pace, his pace naturally increased and is now exactly what I wanted. We fly down the sidewalk like a well-oiled machine. We snuggle in bed at night, and while I groom him, he licks me clean. He loves playing with his squeaky dinosaur and chewing on one of his many Nylabones. His favourite place to be is on my lap, tummy up and getting endless belly rubs.

He has my heart so fully and completely.

Guide dogs aren’t just dogs, nor are they just mobility tools. Guide dogs are so much more than that. They’re dogs who are part of who we are, who give us things this world can’t, and who help us become the people we desire to be. Because of Saint, I feel independent, free, safe, a little more equal, and so, so loved.

This was the story of how Saint and I almost weren’t. But I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude that we were, and are, and will be forever together—the dream team. Nothing in life is ever guaranteed, and once you come close to losing something you love, it changes your perspective. It helps you stay thankful and not take anything for granted. And that’s my prayer, to never take Saint for granted and to stay thankful for the amazing blessing that he is in my life. He gives me so much—independence, freedom, unconditional love—and all I want is to give him the best life I can in return.

THERE IS NO MEANING IN DISABILITY PRIDE WITHOUT GOD

My first braille Bible came a few volumes at a time. In the first box was the Gospel of Matthew and Acts of the Apostles, two books in the New Testament. I was ecstatic. And as they came box by box, my Bible filled up my bookshelf and at seven years old, I could read the Word of God for myself for the first time.

It was so exciting, being able to read the Bible like my family and friends at church. I took it to Sunday School with me and was able to participate in Sword drills and follow along with the passage during the sermon. I kept a volume next to my bed, and half the shelf in my bedroom was taken up with the 37-volume Bible from Lutheran Braille Workers.

In my early twenties, I decided it was time for a new Bible, one with crisp braille dots and edges that didn’t have permanent curves from leaning against the wall by my bed. I opted for a 20-volume, hardcover Bible in the New King James Version [NKJV]. It now sits on my bookshelf, taking four cubbies to hold it all. It’s made the trek with me from my home two cities and four houses ago. It still takes up most of the bookshelf, and I still keep a volume by my bed.

It’s been with me for as long as I can remember, and so has God.

But my relationship with my braille Bible is easier to define than my relationship with God. There was a beginning, a conscious decision to open the pages and glide my fingers over the sweet dots that spelled out the story of God’s love for me. But growing up in a Christian home meant that God was in my life while I was still in the womb, and before I could say the name of God, He was a significant part of my existence. There’s never been life for me without Him. No beginning, no divide between when I knew Him and when I didn’t. Along the way, there have been landmarks in our relationship, like my baptism at 14 and my decision to attend Bible college after high school.

Receiving my braille Bibles have been landmark moments in my faith journey, too, but it’s not only because of being given the ability to read God’s Word for myself. It’s because the Bible was in braille, and for the first time, my identities as a disabled woman and a Christian came together in a real, tangible way.

The immense pride I have in my identity as a disabled woman only has meaning when taken with my pride in being a follower of Jesus Christ. I never believed they could coexist before, but not only can they, it makes my life overflow with beauty and meaning in both.

My disability is beautiful because I know that God created me this way and takes joy in me.
My faith is bolstered because of what I have endured as a disabled woman and every trial I face points back to God.

As simplistic as it may sound, the Bible sitting on my bookshelf now and the one in my childhood bedroom is how I know this is true. In one book, my disability and my God come together. It’s the only way to have full and complete meaning in both my disabled identity and my Christian identity. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My disability brings me closer to God, and God brings me pride in my disability.

You all know that I’m very vocal about my disability pride and a bit less so about my Christian pride. My faith journey is a very private one, and I keep it behind a curtain for only me and God to see. But every time I write about disability equality, accessibility, rights and ways to become allies of the disabled community, it stems from my love for the God who made me disabled, and beautifully so. There’s no meaning in it if God isn’t the maker and the center, and I’m thankful that He is, and will always be, there.

How does your faith impact your relationship with your disability, and vice versa? Let me know in the comments.

TIME CAN NOT HEAL ALL WOUNDS, BUT THERAPY WILL

Talking to My Therapist and God

I talk to my therapist and God
at the intersections of my subconscious;
intermittent conversations penetrating
my awareness of childhood
trauma and childlike
faith,
where the cancer scar fades but
my skin is still stitched with threads of
chemo and vomit
and echoed laments to healer God for a
chocolate cake with six candles
and no flowers.
Where water is thicker than blood
but neither can quench my soul.

adrift in flashback
cast out in communion

My therapist and God talk to me
about healing.

© Rhianna McGregor

I wish I had a porch swing tonight. As a teenager, I found God’s comfort as I gently swung myself back and forth on the porch swing, staring at the stars and letting myself just feel. I sat on that swing, telling God about my first broken heart, my emerging struggles with traditional, evangelical Christianity, the friendship I ended over Skype… everything.

I wish I had a porch swing tonight.

Or at least, I wish I could talk with my therapist.

But therapy costs money. So does planning a wedding. And moving to a new city. Caring for my guide dog costs money, and trying to feed myself food that isn’t processed in plastic costs money.

And I don’t have much money. That is the simple truth of the matter and I see no point in sugar coating reality. After all, it is a reality lived day after day by many more people than just myself, and there is no shame in it or in seeking help.

But this isn’t a post about the doom and gloom of my financial stress, nor a plea for pity.

It’s merely to sit down with you on my porch swing and talk to you about my life. Will you sit with me for a while?

I have very exciting changes coming in my life. In a matter of weeks, I will become a wife and begin a new adventure with the love of my life. Alongside marriage, I will be moving to a new city with my husband, and will no longer have to travel back and forth and live long-distance. Many of the challenges we face today will be resolved once we say “I do.”

But what will not be resolved are the deeper issues that I pretend I don’t wrestle with, but which plague me on a daily basis.

They say that time heals all wounds. And while I can’t definitively say there is no truth to that, my experiences lead me to believe that time does not heal at all. It merely offers a cozy bed in which to huddle beneath blankets and indulge in a bucket of negativity.

I don’t want to be someone who holds grudges. After all, I’d like to be a person who follows 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” But taking the high road and being that person, not simply spouting the good intention, are two different matters entirely.

I’ve touched on a couple of friendships of mine that have completely evaporated in the last several months. But as time goes on, I find myself falling deeper and deeper into the pit of bitterness and resentment, and farther from healing. Time has made a comfortable place for me to nurture my hurt, anger and deep sadness. There is no room for healing here.

You might think, but Rhianna, give it another try. Reach out. There’s no harm. Since I will not divulge the details of these relationships’ struggles, I can’t expect anyone to understand my position. But I will not, and cannot, rebuild these friendships. As my fiancé said, it’s like pouring water into a cup that leans on an angle—the water can only go one direction. I’ve tried again and again, and all we’ve done is spill more water.

But what’s it going to take to actually begin to heal from these hurts that not only happened in my past, but actively impact my present? A day doesn’t go by where I don’t feel a ball of bitterness sitting in the bottom of my belly, or rising up to my throat as hot, angry tears and screams that I can’t let out. It rears its head in everything I do—my writing and publishing endeavours, my fear, but deep desire, to make new friends, even the physical items around my home that remind me of what happened.

I want to heal. I don’t want to live like this anymore. But what can I do when old wounds continue to bleed, and new wounds puncture my heart, and make moving on next to impossible?

I don’t believe time is the answer.

But I do believe I have the answer. God and my therapist. I wouldn’t be who I am today without their love, support and guidance, and I won’t be the person I want to become without them now.

My therapist may cost money, and I do work to make seeing her a priority. But while I work and save, I’m just thankful that talking to God doesn’t cost anything.

Hey God, you got a minute [or two?]

WE LOST MORE THAN A QUEEN TODAY

A woman died today.

She was not a perfect woman. The country she ruled was not a perfect country. Both she and the country made mistakes. She was only human, after all, and her country was only one piece of an imperfect world.

But that should be enough to give her the respect and dignity she deserves, in life and in death.


It’s only been hours since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, and yet, my social media is filled with commentary about England’s colonization efforts, their victimization of other cultures, their theft of artifacts, and the assertion that, because of this, Queen Elizabeth does not deserve to be mourned. “We have no obligation to mourn the oppressors,” read one post, and there were others, and there will be more.

My heart is breaking. Yes, for Queen Elizabeth, dear, dear Queen Elizabeth. I grieve for her family, who have lost a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother first, and a monarch second. I grieve for those who knew her as a person and not as a crown. For those friends that knew her in a way that only friends can. I grieve for a country who has lost its leader, and a Commonwealth, its figurehead and symbol of togetherness.

But I grieve for the people who are mocked and ridiculed and looked down on for mourning her, too.

My heart is breaking, seeing people’s anger and bitterness come out only after she has passed.; do they think they are brave for speaking up now that she is dead? I cannot understand how people can blame one woman for the mistakes of one country which she did not commit herself but were passed down to her from generations before. Why are people unable to give others the space to mourn a beloved woman and leader, simply because they disagree with her views or beliefs?

Is there no reverence for the dead anymore?


I am not asking you to agree with Queen Elizabeth, England, with each event of her 70-year reign or with those that came before her.

But I am asking you, imploring you, to give others—friends, family, governments, countries—the space and the time and the respect to mourn their loss, heal their hearts the best they can, and figure out a new way forward.

We are only human after all.

Queen Elizabeth has touched my life in a way I can’t articulate yet. And I should not have to justify or defend my broken heart, my sadness and my deep sense of loss, at what has happened today. No one should.

A woman died today.

And more than a country, a monarchy and political entanglements, Queen Elizabeth was a woman, a human and a person of infinite value. If nothing else, let us mourn for that, and give her the least that one human ought to do for another.

Long live the monarchy!

WHAT A YES-AND-YET LIST IS AND WHY IT’S PART OF MY SELF CARE ROUTINE

What began as a standard, to-do list in the weeks before moving to a new city over a year ago, has now become a means of self-care and a reminder that, yes, I, Rhianna, can do this.

I don’t know if it’s my blindness, my anxiety, or just being an “adult” trying to figure out “life,” but I have a heck of a time giving credit where credit’s due … But only when it comes to myself.

In my brain, success never comes through my own skills and determination, but because of the support I’m given by friends, family and professionals. Somehow, the support I receive invalidates my contributions to succeed, and thus, I can’t take credit for it or feel a sense of accomplishment in my own success.

Short story long? If I get help with a project, I can’t be proud of myself because I didn’t do it independently.

I can’t take any credit.

Y’all know that I love a good list. I make them for everything—grocery shopping, house cleaning, which items are for sale and which are going to the thrift shop, planning blog posts, so it wasn’t a surprise then, that when I decided to move to a new city, I started a list of all the things I needed to get done. Here are a few of the first things that I wrote down:

  • Find somewhere to live on the island
  • Give month’s notice to landlords
  • Apply for dog license
  • Book hair appointment
  • Sign rental agreement and addendum
  • Send damage deposit
  • Send code for door keypad
  • Write 2020 review
  • Make eggplant parmesan quesadillas
  • Return immersion blender

Looking at a physical list of the tasks made me feel organized and ready for the challenge. Now that I knew what needed to get done, it was less overwhelming to do those things. What had felt like an impossible task in my brain—moving to a new city alone—was now doable because it was broken down into little steps. And one by one, I checked them off.

That’s how my Yes-and-Yet list was born.

But it soon became more than that.

As a record-keeping fanatic, I knew I couldn’t simply check off an item, delete it and move on. It would be as though I were deleting the very thing I’d just accomplished. And with this move marking such a significant time in my life, I knew that I’d want to look back and reminisce. But not to pat myself on the back and think, “wow, look how productive you were,” but to realize that even in times of pressure and chaos, I am capable. It was comforting after a day of planning and prep to lie in bed and review the list and know that I would be okay. With every task I checked off, I was proving to myself that I could make it on my own and follow my dream.

So, after settling into my new house, I kept my list going. And a year later, I still add daily to that original list.

Though it began as a list to organize one specific event, the Yes-and-Yet list has become my master list of everything going on in my life. From booking medical appointments to washing my dishes to when I’m expected to receive Amazon packages, anything that requires my attention goes on the list.

But why write a post about my Yes-and-Yet list when to-do lists of all manner are standard in nearly everyone’s daily life?

Here’s why.

Because I have spent years delving the depths of cyberspace to find a system of keeping myself organized so I wouldn’t drive myself crazy, and coming up blank. I’ve downloaded dozens of apps, calendars and planners, hoping that one of them would be “it.”

But it never was.
So I created my own.

My Yes-and-Yet list as my master list because it contains everything from all parts of my life. But one could argue and say that in it being a masterlist, it isn’t organized and overwhelms more than it helps.

But there is one major advantage to the master list and it’s the one reason above all else why I keep it:

Because when I feel like a failure, I get to gaze upon page after page of things that I’ve accomplished, and feel a sense of pride in myself and what I’ve done.

Sure, some of my yets and yeses are basic, daily living tasks like washing dishes (AND putting them away) and vacuuming the living room. But for someone who struggles with mental health, these can often become insurmountable challenges. And on those days, seeing even one task in the Yes column, makes a huge difference in my mental health.

It’s why I write everything down in the Yet column, so that on days when I have very little energy and am unfeeling unproductive, I can sift through the manageable tasks, check off one or two, and feel proud of myself.

It isn’t always easy, though. Living in the society that we do, there’s a constant pressure to be productive and achieve a certain level of success in each passing moment. But the simple truth is that everyone’s definition of productive is different, and that’s okay.

For me, folding and hanging all my clean laundry is a big win, whereas to others, it wouldn’t even make the list. But I’ve always believed in celebrating the little victories, because for someone out there, it’s not little. And every victory is worth celebrating.

All the thoughts spinning around inside my head don’t feel so overwhelming when one by one, I can write them down, and one by one, I can add them to the “Yes” list.

Tell me, what method do you use to keep yourself organized? Let me know in the comments.

WHAT I SEE AS A FULLY BLIND WOMAN

“So Rhianna, what can you see?”
“Actually, I’m totally blind.”
“Oh. But, you can see something… right?”

Aside from the question of how I became blind, this is the question I am asked most often, by friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers. There are a few facets to my answer, and this is, as always, my own personal experience. Molly Burke, a Youtuber whose channel centers around disability awareness and education, posted this video answering that very question, and her experience living with Charles Bonnet Syndrome. No two blind people have the exact same experience; it’s different for everyone.

Let’s start with the simple answer. Do I have any sight?
No.
As both of my eyes have been enucleated, I have no visual perception–no light or shadow perception which many visually impaired still retain. It’s estimated that 85% of visually impaired individuals have some remaining vision, whereas only 15% are totally blind.
I do not however, see blackness, as is often presumed. If I don’t see light, I must see darkness. I’m unclear as to how you could see darkness, but anyway…

As I grow older and my life with vision becomes a smaller and smaller piece of the puzzle, my visual memories are growing fainter. The colours I see aren’t as bright, and the detail with which I saw giraffes, flowers and my family’s faces have lost much of their definition. Even so, I am grateful that I have these memories at all: The average age for a retinoblastoma diagnosis is two years old or younger, leaving the individual with very little visual memory, if any. I was diagnosed at four and a half, and thus, my memories of sight were well-established. Those early years laid a solid foundation for how I would visualize my ever-changing world as I matured and moved into environments of which I had no visual recollection.

In these circumstances, it’s up to me to paint the picture.
Here are my paintbrushes:

  • Visual description by a sighted person
  • Tactile exploration

Visual Description

Having an object or environment verbally described to me is often my first go-to for understanding my surroundings. Being as clear and as detailed as you can be gives me the best chance at painting an accurate and vibrant picture. Here’s an example:

At the end of 2020, I was searching Facebook Marketplace for a place to live as I was planning on moving to a new city in the new year. Many postings relied on photos to attract potential tenants, but I was focused on the written description the seller wrote alongside the pictures. I came across a suite which was described as having a “small” bedroom, “floor-to-ceiling” windows and a “large” backyard. I’ve enclosed small, floor-to-ceiling and large in quotations to make a point: These gave me a beginning off of which to build my image of the suite. Since those descriptors fit the type of home I was seeking, I then asked my parents [who I was living with at the time] to describe the photos.
The space was clean, cared for, and as it was in my price range, I decided to move ahead and continue a conversation with the landlord. Not being able to visit before moving due to travel impracticalities and Covid-19 restrictions, I requested that she send a video walkthrough of the suite which she happily supplied. While watching the video, my father was able to describe the living space to me, allowing me to add a framework to my thus far, blank canvas.

“Okay, Rhianna,” he said, watching the video over a few times to make sure he described it correctly, “when you walk through the front door, the kitchen is immediately on the right. It’s like a little hallway. On the right side is the fridge and freezer–fridge on top and freezer on bottom–and then there’s a bit of counter space before the stove. Keep going along the right and there’s more counter space. Now, it turns to the left and here’s the double sink. This is straight ahead from the entrance into the kitchen. Coming back along the left side of the kitchen, which is now on your right, you have a long counter–it’s counter space all the way back to the front. The fridge and stove are opposite this counter.”

Can you see it?
Me too.
My parents proceeded to walk me through the rest of the suite, the living area, bathroom, bedroom and the stairs outside leading down to the backyard. My painting was looking great!

But it wasn’t enough. Not quite yet. Oh, it was good enough for me to apply, and be accepted, to rent the suite. But I was excited to move and complete my picture and add the tactile details it needed to bring it to life.

Tactile Exploration

When I arrived at my new home three weeks later, I was chomping at the bit to fill in the details of my picture. Daddy had done a good job of describing it to me, but I was ready to explore it for myself.

As I moved about my new home, I discovered that the cupboard doors didn’t close flat against their neighbouring cupboards, so to avoid a headache, I’d have to ensure I closed them after I was finished. I found out just how big the floor-to-ceiling windows really were, and how to operate the blinds. I learned how to adjust the temperature, the ceiling fan, and where the electrical outlets were. These details gave my painting nuance and a fullness that could only be gained from physical hands-on exploration.

Exploring my environment tactually is my preferred way to learn my surroundings. Not only is it enjoyable, but satisfies my innermost desire to be independent and self-sufficient–a vital feeling for a disabled person to have. But a combination of external, visual description and independent, physical discovery offers me a full and immersive picture of my world, which for me, is the ultimate goal.

It’s A Movie In My Mind

I don’t believe that my “sight” is much different than yours. I am constantly taking in information, adding and subtracting details to create a beautiful image of the world around me. The difference is merely that I’m taking it in through my remaining senses–hearing, smell, touch and taste–rather than primarily through the eyes.

This is how I visualize everything, whether I know the setting or not. I know my own home inside and out, but what if I don’t know the store I’m heading into to grab groceries? As I go, I take in details such as smells, the feel of the flooring, how much space is around me [is it cramped or open], big objects like shelving units, display cases etc… all of these details help me to create an image, and I can recall that image the next time I’m in that location.

It’s a movie that never ends! It constantly shifts from scene to scene, and with each, more detail is added, bringing the world of that movie to life.

So, contrary to the assumption that I must live in blankness or darkness because of my blindness, I live in a vivid, colourful world, just like you. I may have to gather my information by different means, and sometimes it isn’t always spot on and might take a few tries to memorize my surroundings, but is lacking in nothing. My world is full of vibrant imagery, bright colours, and as much joy as ever–after all, joy is found in more than visual ability.

Just take a look around, or simply close your eyes, and you’ll see. Go on, I’ll wait.

WHEN CHRISTMAS WAS SIGHTED — SIX HOLIDAY MEMORIES FROM THE TIME BEFORE I WAS BLIND

As Christmas approaches and the world descends into a frenzy of holiday activity, I take a walk down memory lane, and reflect on the six Christmasses with my family before I became blind. I don’t remember many of them as I was so young, but there are bits and pieces that I recall which form the fondest of memories and the warmest of feelings. And I want to share them with you.

Here are six special childhood memories that I will always hold close to my heart and take with me as I celebrate this and many more Christmas seasons to come.

I. Frosty in Footprints

One winter while my grandparents were visiting, Grandpa and I were playing in the backyard, when Grandpa said “follow me.” He began walking in odd patterns, shuffling his feet in the snow. I followed where he put his feet, and was entirely confused. After he was finished, we went inside and he lead me to the kitchen window which overlooked the backyard. There, in the snow, was the word “Frosty” which had been written out by our footprints.

II. The Snow Mountain

Every year, our side yard became home to the snow mountain. When the handyman came around with his bobcat, he shoveled the snow into a hill and carved out small steps in the side. And every year, my siblings and I spent hours running up the snow mountain and sliding down just as fast as we could!

III. Home from the Hospital… Just in Time

I was fortunate that, for the first year I was battling my cancer, I was able to spend Christmas at home with my family. But it was a close call. I was released on Christmas Eve, and when I walked in the front door, my entire family was waiting for me–my grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins on my mom’s side were there! It was so sweet, being surrounded by family for the holidays. I remember some, but I’m sure not all, of the mischief me and my cousins got into, and as the youngest cousin, I’m sure I got out of all the trouble, too.

IV. The Christmas Eve Tradition

For most people I know, Christmas morning is the pinnacle of the holidays. It’s when stockings are opened along with the presents piled up beneath the tree. For me, it’s opposite: Christmas Eve was the night I awaited with such excitement, and continues to since I’ve brought its tradition into my adulthood.

My family attended the Christmas Eve service at church where we would sing carols, read the story of Jesus’ birth and light candles. Once home, we’d change into pajamas and open every present… almost. Except for our stockings and the gift from Mom and Dad, every other present was torn open and squealed over. Then came the movie, which as tradition dictated, was the classic, Miracle on 34th Street. To this day, I have most of that movie memorized!

V. Into the Wilderness!

The first Saturday of December was the most exciting day–it’s when we got bundled up and headed out into the woods to cut down a Christmas tree! My memories are made up of trudging through the snow, picking out the perfect tree, Dad cutting it down with a saw and dragging it back to the car, and me, exhausted from the day’s events, insisting on being pulled home on the sled. On Sunday after church, we’d decorate it, and my favourite ornaments to hang were always the musical instruments.

VI. The Reindeer

Dad was a forester for 30 years, and as a gift from a coworker one year, he received a uniquely “foresty” gift–a reindeer made of tree trunks and branches! It has survived many a move and still stands proud, albeit a bit wobbly, in my parents’ living room.

Christmas, both when I was sighted and now that I am blind, holds a special place in my heart. There are parts of the season I wish I could see still, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for the holiday as a blind woman. After all, it’s still a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and that is something I can celebrate with or without sight.

What do you remember about Christmas and the holiday season when you were a child? Let me know in the comments.

WHY I WAS AFRAID TO WRITE BLIND CHARACTERS AND WHY I’M NOT AFRAID ANYMORE

On April 6, 2020, beloved Canadian children’s author, Jean Little, passed away at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy of love and best sellers, including Mine For Keeps Hand in Hand, Dancing Through the Snow and From Anna.

But having been wrapped up in earning my English degree, training with my first guide dog, moving cities and of course, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’d lost touch with many of my beloved childhood authors and their books—like Jean Little. For two years after graduating university, I couldn’t pick up a book; my brain was so spent from four years of literary analyses and creative writing portfolios that I couldn’t enjoy the act of reading.
But with the announcement of Little’s passing and all the fond memories that flooded back with it, I resolved to re-acquaint myself with her books.

My favourite as a kid was From Anna. My TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired) had embossed a braille copy for me, and I kept the volumes next to my bed within easy reach for late-night reading sprees. The dots wore down, and the pages adopted a permanent curve from leaning against the wall on an angle, but that just speaks to how much I loved this book.
And I wasn’t the only one. This tribute to Jean counts From Anna among her most cherished works.

It was a few weeks ago now that I read Forward, Shakespeare!, a story that follows a young dog called Shakespeare as he trains at The Seeing Eye to become a guide dog, and is matched with a teenaged boy named Tim who wants nothing whatsoever to do with Shakespeare or his blindness. I was captivated by this book, reading it front to back in one night; it’s masterfully written, engaging and is an accurate representation of the lifestyle of working with a guide dog. Jean herself received her guide dogs from this same school.

But as I laid awake, long after I’d turned the final page, I was struck by such an overwhelming feeling that it took me many nights to process what it truly was.

It was that near indescribable feeling of being known. Of being understood and validated and accepted for who you are and where you are in your story.

I was just like Tim.
As a teenager, and even in my early twenties, I felt the same things as Tim—I was angry, guarded, bitter and unwilling to accept the circumstances of my blindness as they were. I had closed myself off and wouldn’t let anyone help me. But somehow, in the pages of one children’s book, I found a friend. I met someone who understood me and my story, someone who wasn’t ashamed to feel what they felt, even though others might wish that he would just let it go and move on. Through Tim, Jean Little said, “I understand you, Rhianna, and it’s okay.”

But as wonderful as it felt to be understood and “gotten” by this one character, it is the very thing I resolved never to do in my own books.

Follow this blog for any length of time and you’ll become very familiar with my fear of being known only by my blindness. With God’s help, I’m overcoming this fear—this blog itself is a testament to that—yet, it still lingers in the corners of my mind with each post that I publish. And when plotting and outlining for future books, I kept to this one, non-negotiable rule:

No. Blind. Characters.

If I wrote a character with a visual impairment, I was driving the final nail into the identity coffin—there would be no chance of shaking the dreaded “blind writer” label after that. After all, other disabled authors are only known by their disability.

Right?

Wrong.

While Jean Little was blind, worked with guide dogs and wrote books about children with varying disabilities, she isn’t remembered because of her blindness.

She’s remembered for who she was and how her books changed lives. Though her characters were primarily children with disabilities, that isn’t what endears her books to our hearts. It’s the humanity that those characters bring. It’s “her ability to see the truth within her characters, and her willingness to follow wherever they [choose] to take her and her readers.” It’s in the heart of characters like Tim which give readers like me a way to feel known and loved.

You can imagine my surprise then, when I realized that the outline for my current novel contains a blind character, guide dog and all! I hadn’t even realized what I’d done.
I, a blind writer, would write a book with a blind character. Or shall I be more precise and say, I will write a book with a blind character.

And that’s okay. In fact, it’s great!

Besides, who better to write a blind character than an author who “gets” it? I think that’s why Tim meant so much to me, because I knew that through him, Jean Little got me, too.

And so, I’ve resolved to change my resolve.

If Jean Little could do it, I can do it. If she could fearlessly write characters with visual impairments and be confident in herself as a writer and as a blind woman, then maybe I can, too.

And if Tim, a blind character in a children’s story could be someone that I saw myself in and in so doing, see a way out of the darkness we both experienced, I think it’s time I become a rule breaker.

It’s time to embrace who I am, both as a blind woman and as a writer.

Thank you Jean Little… you are dearly missed, but your books will live on and continue to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Like they have in mine.

WHY I’M NOT WEARING A WHITE WEDDING DRESS

Having grown up in a traditional, conservative Christian household and adopting many of the traditions for myself, planning a wedding seemed straightforward. It would be a church wedding with the lead pastor officiating, every member of my and my fiance’s families attending and me, walking down the aisle in a beautiful, white dress.

I still hold to these Christian values, beliefs and traditions. They are the core of who I am and who I want to become.

So then, how do you explain the emerald green wedding dress hanging in my closet?

I find it amazing and a bit quirky, that sometimes, I don’t even realize I need the answer to a question until someone else asks me. This was the case when my Auntie—who, by the way, is the officiant for my wedding and neither my fiancé or I attend her church—asked me plainly: “Rhianna, why do you want to wear a coloured wedding dress?”

I was silent, but when I did speak, it was a mess of half-sentences and I don’t knows. I knew somewhere deep down, but until that moment, I hadn’t needed to find it words. My Auntie had asked a genuine question out of curiosity and I wanted to give a genuine answer.

It’s taken me weeks to process my thoughts and feelings into an intelligible form. So here we go, my three reasons for choosing a coloured wedding dress.

Green Is My Colour

Let’s begin with the simple answers.

Green is my favourite colour. It’s warm, cozy, inviting and also adventurous. Whenever I paint my nails, I love doing dark green with gold accents. My guide dog wears turquoise boots in non paw-friendly conditions, and any chance I get to buy green items, even down to mugs and socks, I take it.

And might I mention too, that emerald is my birthstone.

White Equals Vulnerable

Vulnerability is a necessary part to any healthy relationship. But learning to be vulnerable is not an easy process, and it becomes harder when you’ve been hurt. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to trust people because my trust has been broken by others. It’s hard to let go of the fear that my perspective won’t be heard or appreciated because in the past, it’s been thoughtlessly dismissed. I often look for ways to protect myself from further hurt, and one mechanism I’ve come to realize that I rely on is my clothing.

For as far back as I can remember, my wardrobe has consisted of jeans and sweaters, most of them in dark greys or blacks. And I was only in my early twenties when a friend broached the idea that my need to wear dark clothes might be connected to my blindness.

My blindness makes me more noticeable to the world, and for a teen who wanted nothing more than to fit in and not be noticed, I resorted to clothes as a protection mechanism. I was at a disadvantage—everyone could see me, but I couldn’t see them. And the less of me they could see, maybe the less susceptible I’d be to judgment or criticism.

As I get older, while I still prefer to be clothed in layers from top to bottom, my colour scheme is expanding. Nothing too bright or outlandish, but I’m more comfortable being seen in oranges, yellows, greens and other shades.

There is a caveat though—it needs to be a solid colour. This way, even in coloured clothing, I’m protected because no one can see through it to the me underneath. Yes, I am aware that lighter colours, like white, aren’t necessarily see-through, and I’m not just referring to the physical implications. But the deeper one, the one where I’m afraid to be seen because if I’m seen, I might be known for who I really am.

And that’s scary.

But before anyone jumps to conclusions, my fears of being known and judged do not apply to my future husband; I’ve known only unconditional love, understanding and complete safety in our relationship. But that doesn’t stop my mind from asking, “What about everyone else?”

White does not equal vulnerable, and colour does not equal protected. But due to my past experiences and my deep desire to be protected, a coloured wedding dress makes me feel safer.

I Want to Express My Individuality

I became blind at the age of six, and since then, my blindness has been a defining aspect of my life. I learned to read braille and use assistive technology. I participated in sporting events for the blind and attended programs specifically for blind and visually impaired children and youth, like summer camp and competitions. I used a white cane and after university, received my first guide dog.

Blindness was all over me. And while I gained valuable skills, made long-lasting friendships and had unique experiences that have shaped my perspective, I can’t deny the impact that my disability had on my self-image. I was still a blind girl, and for years, I viewed this as a negative. No matter how intensely I fought it, my disability was the first thing that people noticed. Whether it was the white cane sweeping the path ahead of me, the four paws guiding me around obstacles, or the fact that I couldn’t make eye contact and was usually looking up, it was there. The blind girl.

And when it came to getting engaged and planning my wedding, I began to notice a deep-seeded need to prove my individuality.

For so long, I’ve been different, but not for the things I wanted. I was praised for being a fast braille reader, winning a braille competition and maintaining a positive attitude despite my disability. Now, I was afraid that this thread would be woven into my wedding.

I didn’t want to be a blind bride, or a blind wife. I was afraid that the emphasis would be placed on the fact that my fiance is marrying a blind woman, or that the dress or decorations don’t matter because I can’t see them. I needed to be different for something I wanted people to notice.


Being deeply rooted in Christianity, I know that some may be surprised and curious at my choice to not wear a white dress. I don’t blame them; a few years ago, I may have questioned the exact same decision. But when I think about what it truly means, and what I wanted in a wedding dress, there’s one thing I come back to.

Before I bought my dress, I showed my Uncle a picture of it and explained my apprehension at what others might think of the non-traditional colour. His response was unshakable, and made me smile:

“It’s your wedding, kid. Wear what makes you happy.”

And you know what? This emerald green dress, with its silky skirts that do the best twirls I’ve ever done, makes me happy.

But what makes me more happy is that while wearing this dress, I get to marry the love of my life. It isn’t indicative of any deviation from my Christian faith or tradition, but simply an embracing of my individuality and something that makes me feel confident and beautiful. And that’s how I want to feel on my wedding day.

What did your wedding dress look like? Let me know in the comments.

WHY I’M THANKFUL FOR MY DISABILITY

Growing up around the Thanksgiving dinner table, when asked what I was thankful for this year, my disability was never on the list. I said things like a loving family, friends that support me, Jesus, opportunities at school and church, all of which were true and deserving of a place on the list, but I was missing one big blessing.

My blindness.

The story of how I came to not only accept but embrace my blindness is a long one, and is still ongoing. It changes as I change, it ebbs and flows as I grow and learn more about myself, God, and the world around me. It’s a story that I used to look at through a lens of disgust; I was ashamed of what I was and how I couldn’t let go of my anger and feel freedom and pride in who I was. My adolescent years were spent in a fog, unwilling to change but not knowing how to change at the same time.

I only knew how to feel inferior. My blindness relegated me to a lesser place in the world, and I watched from below as my friends and family lived their lives with an ease and equality that I craved. The life I wanted for myself was a dream I couldn’t reach. So I settled into my place and passed the days and years in an embittered haze.

Being disabled is not easy. At times, it’s awful. The ableism and discrimination disabled people face is staggering, and so often, it takes everything in us to keep going. Sometimes, it feels like it’s us against the world, and the world is winning. It’s a very real part of living in a disabled body, and it can be a trial to find one thing to be thankful for. This is certainly the mindset I adopted as I grew up; surviving was hard enough. What was there to be thankful for?

As it turns out… lots!

My blindness taught me the value of every human life, no matter what abilities a body does or does not have.

It taught me that with God’s strength, I can overcome the challenges I face in a world that wasn’t designed for me.

I learned how to use my determination, stubbornness and voice to advocate for my needs and the needs of others.

I learned that you don’t truly appreciate what you have until you’ve fought for it.

And I’ve learned about love. I’ve learned how to love others, how to love myself, and most importantly, how God loves each one of His children, able or disabled. He made us in His image, and He never gives up on us even when we give up on ourselves.

This is why I’m thankful for my disability. Because it taught me that underneath what we see on the surface, when we look deeper than skin-level, it’s about people, and it’s the people we are inside that count. My blindness shapes who I am and who I will become. It’s a part of me I will never again be ashamed of. It’s a part of me that has made me into the person I am and the person I know I was meant to become. This is why I’m thankful for my disability.

And I’m thankful to be in the middle of this life. With all its challenges and struggles, and all the light and love that comes with it, I am thankful to be who I am because God created me this way. I will love my disabled body because He loves it and will use me and my story to make a difference for Him. And I can’t wait.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Tell me in the comments. And if you’re American, join in anyway! We should be thankful all year round.

YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO DISABLED PEOPLE’S MEDICAL INFORMATION

People are curious about what they don’t know. I get it. I’m curious to know what a wooly mammoth feels like, and how people can read my emotions so accurately just by the way I move my face. [How does one raised eyebrow say so much?]

But there are some things, no matter how curious you are about, that are simply not appropriate to ask a stranger. And particularly, a disabled one.

“Were you born like that?”

The question came from a man sitting across from me on the city bus as I was on my way home from university. I was absorbed in my phone, tracking what stops we were passing so I didn’t miss mine, and more than that, I didn’t think this abrupt question was directed to me.

“What?” I said quietly. No one else had responded.

“Were you born like that?”

I didn’t reply. It was safer than anything that might have emerged from my mouth. But I knew what he meant. Had I always been disabled?

That encounter was years ago, but it was by no means the only time I’ve been asked that question. And the unfortunate reality is that the occurrence of strangers asking after disabled people’s medical information is ongoing, and far too frequent.

Disability happens for any number of reasons, and often, these origin stories are painful and difficult to talk about. I’m fairly open with mine: I became blind due to retinoblastoma, cancer of the eyes, when I was six years old. Both of my eyes were enucleated and I now have prosthetics, painted with the same hazel that I got from my mother.

I’m open about this part of my history. But I choose when and with whom to be open about it. And let me tell you that it is not with a stranger on the bus.

But there are people who became disabled in other ways, such as tragic accidents, attempted suicide, violence, and many more, things that are not appropriate to discuss. Maybe it brings up the trauma. Maybe they don’t want to relive what happened because it’s too painful. And maybe, they just don’t want to talk about it. Because, believe it or not, disabled people do talk about things other than disability.

It is their right to choose how they respond. And that reason also doesn’t have to be disclosed.

There is nothing more private than someone’s medical history and current condition. I’ve never once encountered an able-bodied person on the bus get asked this question.

But every disabled person that I know has been asked at least once, and often in a very insensitive way. Just because we are disabled does not mean that anyone other than the disabled person and their doctor gets to know that information.

At this point, it isn’t even curiosity about the unknown as it is plain and simple nosiness, and a good dose of ableism. If someone believes a stranger’s medical details are theirs to know and asks with no regard for privacy or consent, the disabled person has just been dehumanized and reduced to an object by which to glean information that to be frank, isn’t theirs to know in the first place.

Now, if someone asks me with genuine kindness and interest about my cancer history or my blindness, I’m often more than happy to answer. There’s a difference between curious and nosy, and if one can ask and still respect that what I divulge is my choice, then I’m all for it.

I said earlier that I’ve never seen a non-disabled person get asked so callously for their medical information. You just don’t do that — it’s an unspoken, societal rule of etiquette.

Why then, are these standards tossed aside in the face of a disabled person? When did we become things that exist to indulge and satisfy a stranger at the expense of our privacy?

Our information is free for the taking. It’s rude if we don’t give a satisfactory answer. We’ve offended the asker — how dare we refuse their request?

The entitlement is staggering. The line between personal information and public knowledge is so easily crossed and it both infuriates me and makes me laugh. How, in the 21st-century, have we gotten to a place where people feel entitled to the private information of strangers, simply to satisfy their curiosity?

Disabled people are not freaks of nature. We are not part of a circus display for you to stare at, poke and prod.

We are people. Yes, we have disabilities. But it is not your job, your right or your place to know about it unless we give our full and enthusiastic consent.

So the next time you ask me “were you born like that?” I’m going to take the advice of my mentor and respond with, “You mean gorgeous? Yes, I was born like that.”