In my junior year at art college, I took psychedelic drugs from time to time. I lived with a fellow artist in Oakland for a while, an ex-boyfriend who also played in a bluegrass band, so there was always a lot of social life and artistic temperament floating around the house. On one such “trip”, I was sitting in my room staring at my feet. I called Rich in from the kitchen to say, “Look at this foot, Rich.” My polio-affected foot was just so strange, so different from the other one, so paralyzed, baby-like, inanimate, discolored and helpless. He sat there with me, me on the bed and he in my little 1930’s thrift shop easy chair. And after a few moments of looking at the foot with me, he said, “That weird foot. It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to you.”
Now, I never asked him what he meant exactly. What I understood him to mean was that every seeming difficulty has some payoff or lesson, since I knew he was into yin and yang, opposites, understanding duality. But I decided, I chose to believe at that time, that he was right. It may have been the best thing, not just the worst thing, that ever happened to me.
I thought, OK, if this hadn’t happened, what would have been different that I might have regretted, or might have led me down a different path that may not have been as good for me? For starters, aside from the good things I missed out on, I would for certain have tried out for either cheerleading or song girls (the ones who dance with pom poms to band music as opposed to those who lead the shouted cheers) in middle school and high school. Nothing against them; some of my favorite gals in high school, with whom I’m still acquainted, were those girls. But, in my case, it might have led me to a more superficial life, to be that popular, one that did not include the richness of experience I sought out as a result of being odd, at least physically. Art. Music. Liberal politics. Interesting people who also were not part of the mainstream, who found new ways of relating and doing things that may not have been acceptable to middle America when I was a middle American kid. Hanging out with people who accepted a broader spectrum of options and social choices. Misfits, sometimes.
That was one of the more unusual thoughts people have shared with me about having a paralyzed foot, that it might be the best thing that ever happened to me. I can tell you that most people would be certain beyond a doubt that it would have been the worst imaginable thing to happen to them, especially as a teenager or young adult. But I sometimes remember what he said when I do feel a little sorry for myself.