Category Archives: personal testimony

history of personal belief and transformation

The Exceptional Stranger.

The gurney is hard, the fluorescence above it humming. Nubbing legs dangle over the side of the frame, an IV port pinching the tender skin on top of my hand every time I forget not to move it. A single, nearly square corkboard on the wall beside holds a smattering of 9×12 memos, one of them hot pink. I stare at that one, mesmerized. How many among this newest crop of strangers will have seen their memo, that day, and would they be ready for the moment of my death?

The half hour preceding, high drama. Arrival, gasping with terror, the creeping itch encircling my face and crawling between my bosom, around, under my arms and across my back, and then the rear of the tongue rising to meet the pharynx, daring to close entirely, heart racing, skin clamming, the lights, lights so icy bright, the smell, always the smell of sterility.

These are the minutes over which nobody has any control. The roughly twenty odd ones after the puncture of Epinephrin and IV push of Benadryl, during which our father, Time, the only sure indicator of ongoing life vs. cardiovascular collapse. And, after four of these in one year, again left alone by strangers in the ER bay to ponder the outcome, mind attached to body gradually succumbs to the antidote of semi-coma.

Strangers. At the moment of theoretical death.

This is the realm of the anaphylactic.

Unlike those stricken with terminal illness or even massive stroke, the anaphylactic cannot feature the luxury of familiar faces, phone calls, cards and letters, even bedside caregivers who’ll call us by our name. If we’re lucky as well as fastidious, we’ll carry with us the proper packet of antihistamine or the Epi-pen, provided we are also completely able and willing to inspect every ingredient contained in every appetizer, entree, salad, and dessert offered by anyone beyond the scope of our own, protected kitchens.

Were we to be anybody outside of our actual selves, we might observe the scene at the neighboring table on a Friday evening – server, hunched over the menu, squeezing a pencil, forehead pinching, corners of the mouth twitching neurolinguistically to mask cursing annoyance, fixated guest rattling on about oils and additives next to a bewildered date mentally reviling why he’d been so determined to know this woman.

We’d not have been able to enjoy our own meal, what with the server hastening off to the chef’s lair to consult, report back, consult again, report back, smile assuredly, take the order, bring the order, take it back, the date leaning in toward the anxious female, arms folded across the table’s edge, eyes sucking into his head behind a smile stretched to its breaking point.

We might have left the restaurant with a social checklist ticking across our own foreheads. We’d have recognized the woman from having seen her on the various pages, she with her dubious references to multiple former lives. We’d have concluded many things. Clearly a narcissist, judging by the texture of her dark hair and the angle of her nose the spoiled daughter of he who sold back room numbers, she would just have to be spending everyone else’s time in public grasping for singular attention. Yes; siphoning the entire room of its last particle of energy, in her own mind she would be exceptional.

Exceptionality. The curse of the oblivious.

Cosmopolitan life renders a certain mass anonymity. When merely dozens are displaced by hundreds of thousands, that which is distinguishing fades from immediate view. Blending is both habit and practice; that which doesn’t easily finds enough of its own kind to forge new criteria for acceptability. By contrast, in small towns anything or anyone who is unavoidably different can become quickly pigeonholed, marked, recognized, and not in a good way. Traits borne by these are subconsciously dismissed as, ultimately, forms of weakness. Exceptionality becomes a force which both pulls and pushes, and that against itself.

The coronavirus has at once rendered every civilized center, regardless of size, homologous. All are flanked according to appropriate distance, masks obviating familiarity, no one a stand out by either class or station.

All, that is, except we anaphylactics. Our fears are inextricably distinguishing. Virus, or vaccine; we face the threat, of death, whether we do or we don’t. Statistically a tiny minority, exceptionality neither our excuse nor our defense, we remain the stranger.

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© 2/26/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or part, including translation without written permission from the author. Sharing permitted by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Rule of Disparity.

I just spent about four minutes scanning a Yale professor’s piece on the nature of genius. Nothing really grabbed me until he touched on gender bias. Women seemed less interested in competing for intellectual superiority. (As if such were even possible, in a woman’s world or any.) When I reached the professor’s self-devised formula for defining genius, I stopped reading.

Apparently, in his equation and in order to qualify, one’s life had to have the fated S. You know, G = S + whatever. S stood for Significance; one life contribution had to reach a wide swath of other people, such that its influence either affected social change or altered the course of history.

Don’t worry. I’m not about to make any claims of cerebral superiority; my elder brother wears that mantle. Plus, all the sugar consumed since retiring from public education has likely dissolved much of whatever there was of pre-frontal cortextuality.

What struck me was the term. “Significance.” That’s really what I’d been seeking. Not Recognition, or even Affirmation. Just the feeling associated with having done something to make being on the planet worthy of breath.

Just under four years ago about to the day, I’d embarked on loving somebody. What made the decision so jarring was just having come off perhaps the peak of my performance career, a collaborative piano recital garnering the, okay, affirmation of those I’d clamored after for decades – full professors of music, whom I’d called colleagues in the privacy of my mind. Had I stayed on that new plateau, really traveled across its terrain, I might not be sitting here in the silence of my house typing this story at all.

No. Instead, I arose the morning after that concert and met up with the man. We walked his dogs. We talked. He would have kissed me, as we parted. He came back, instead. And, we were off.

Off, that is, to pursue and indulge and submerge and strive and cleave and hew and cry, then wonder and fret, antagonize, apologize (me), modulate, recapitulate. The song was way too long. The theme was nothing new, and the composition simply would not hold itself together.

Yet, the whole time, I told myself I was loving somebody.

Somebody, other than myself. Not the artist, the creative, the somehow talented younger sister of the celebrated family genius. Some one other person, alone in the world, fraught by a history only a handful could claim, really difficult to crack open, the ultimate challenge of other-directedness. This project would elevate my life beyond petty competition for rank or station. This would transcend securing a position as staff pianist for a university music department. Choosing to love more than mere aspiration would be a spiritual quest, requiring every facet of human awareness and commitment.

Growing up in the shadow of genius makes a person acutely aware of all the disparities. Not in social opportunity; I’m talking about what’s between people, that which separates them, the stuff that makes people different rather than the same.

I learned early that what I did easily, what drew me, occupied me alone. Nothing I really wanted to do involved anybody else. And, as I grew, my value became about what I could do which distinguished me. By adolescence, my body told me that this would never be enough. I looked outside of myself, and discovered a need to feel more than merely the object of curious attention.

We siblings were all taught the same things, but how we made them relevant in our lives was as different as we were from one another. The genius went out, and made the world come to him. I stayed home, and waited for what was born in my imagination to appear. When it only manifested inside my head I relinquished to what I’d been told: if I wanted love, I must first give it.

My attempts to do so were always wholehearted; the results were repeatedly bewildering and, ultimately, heart aching. I poured myself back into my art.

Choosing to try, one more time, coming just as I had finally hit my expressive stride will have to be explained by the one looking on. Veering off a path so clear, the mind specialists might offer, is about a certain fear. Perhaps I had acquiesced to the rule of disparity. Perhaps I could not accept that fortune and artistic satisfaction were my future, and chose instead to give myself away.

Somewhere, the tune changed. Then, the music ended. Everything cliche’d about intention and mutuality played in a loop, on an old cassette recorder in the corner of solitude. Whatever I thought I’d been doing just stopped.

The object of my love wanted no part of my intention. He repeatedly extracted himself until only figments remained in final retreat. Absolute absence left no ripple.

Pianos don’t move; they just wait. I’d been playing, all along, kind of on low grade maintenance as a service; but, slowly, each new piece began to bespeak a strange promise. Today, I played like my life depended on it. And, that piano loved me back, with its own, unconditional song.

Perhaps what we do and why we do it isn’t for us to say. Maybe we really are just a flicker in the flow of life, as insignificant as we can be. Even the genius has a moment or two of wonder mixed into all that grand earth shaking. Ask the child with special needs; even brilliance has its season.

I suppose the Yale professor, and all those whose time is spent observing those on the floor above might have something to say about all this. But, while he and his ilk are figuring out everybody else, you’ll know where you can find me. I’ll just be starting up where I stopped, perhaps differently than anything deemed significant, but loving in the only way I ever knew how.

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© 1/29/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Please don’t parse out this piece, or translate and then publish it. I wrote it, and it represents what was born in my head. You have something in yours. Go, find it. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

Author’s Influences.

© 1/20/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo

littlebarefeetblog.com