I can remember being a senior in high school and having arguments with my parents about applying for “blind scholarships.” By that I mean, scholarships awarded to blind students pursuing college degrees, or students with physical disabilities in general. My parents were pro, I said no. I was determined not to get money just because I was blind. I was seventeen and silly and really stubborn and I was having none of it. I didn’t want my claim to fame to be that I was the best, smartest blind person. And, I suspect that I also feared NOT being the best, smartest blind person. I feared losing. I feared rejection.
What a difference 13 years, many of them unemployed, and a sizable cache of student loan debt can make. Forget buying a house, I now have a student loan mortgage. Maybe I should have tried harder to be the specialest snowflake blind person and gone for all those scholarships. “Maybe I should have”, I suppose, is a staple of getting older. In any case, there are far fewer scholarship opportunities for blind MFA grad students than there were for undergrads. “I should have” known better.
When I started using public transit after moving to the Twin Cities, I was determined to pay the full fare. It was $1.50 then, and the disability fare was 50 cents. There was no reason, I thought, that I couldn’t pay as much as everyone else.
“It’s only 50 cents,” bus drivers would tell me after I plunked in all my change. “You get reduced fare.”
I remember feeling annoyed and insulted by their comments. They didn’t know anything about me. How could they be so presumptuous and try to tell me what I “should” be paying?
Now, I pay the disability fare. If I made a ton of money, I tell myself, I would pay the full price. I would support public transportation. But, for now, I’m glad I have the option to spend less on the bus. It’s helpful.
I have EBT, aka “food stamps.” Every time I have to go reapply or update things in person, I cry. It’s embarrassing, and I try not to do it, because I know better logically. I know I’m not “just sitting around taking from everyone else.” I know I’m not lazy, or at least, that I’m not lazy about the big things. (I do put off doing laundry longer than I should is all I’m saying.) My economic situation is not because I haven’t just “pulled myself up by my bootstraps”, “buckled down”, or “worked hard enough.” It’s a systemic problem. But I still feel ashamed because of what society says about people like me.
I remember the first time I applied for EBT, my dad mentioned there was a sign in the DHS office that said something like, “No angry or violent outbursts.” I thought, at the time, that that sign was strange and kind of funny.
To be honest, I understand it now. I’ve seen people on the bus, on the streets, at the Department of Services for the Blind, just lose it because scarcity, disempowerment, poverty … all of it is freaking hard. I’m not supposed to lose it, so I don’t, but sometimes I envy them. I’ve seen older people, completely beaten down by our systems, who are bitter and unable to see what’s beautiful any more. I don’t want to get that disillusioned.
Pride is something I have less of now. But I don’t want to lose my compassion. I want to be kind to people, especially the people who understand the brokenness of our systems and think about what it would take to change them. I’m putting this here, so I don’t forget about compassion and kindness.