Category Archives: classics

pilgrimclassic: Casting Faith

This post originally appeared on Nov 19, 2006:

On Thursday during my casting appointment there was a group of four people involved in the process—two prosthetists and two interns—each taking a different role in wrapping my residual limb in a flexible fiberglass shell, then shaping that shell into a form that will both conform to my anatomy and will also best contain the tissue, muscle and bone as I walk. This is an intimate process, as the socket of my prosthetic leg interfaces with the major bones of the pelvic girdle—holding in the ischium and pressing against the ramus.

It is an odd feeling to have two male prosthetists shaping the casting material between my legs and around my hip. Realizing that they are interacting with the most personal spaces of my body. Knowing that it is their job and this is a necessary process for getting a good fitting socket. Me, trying to remain a bit aloof and distanced from the process, yet at the same time having such high hopes that they will get a good fit—that the socket will work well and not cause pain and the suppurating sores that I’ve suffered with for the past few years.

On Thursday evening I experienced a different form of intimacy. I gathered around the kitchen table of a Friend, holding hands with three Quaker women who agreed to serve on my Clearness Committee. We sat in silence, in prayer, until I felt moved to speak, to tell them of the turmoil in my heart in the process of leaving Mormonism. I spoke hesitantly, nervously. Their role was only to ask open-ended questions. Not to judge. Not to guide. After 90 minutes of speaking and silence, they mirrored what I had spoken back to me. They told me what they had heard me say. They discussed how my body language revealed the truths of my heart. Most of all, they shared their concern for the burdens that I am carrying.

Perhaps ironically, the Clearness Committee experience was far more discomfiting and intimate than the casting for my prosthesis. For I don’t readily share the thoughts of my heart. Yes, I do this daily blogging, but I speak primarily of mundanity here. I’ve only very hesitantly shared the steps of my spiritual journey with anyone. I suspect that most just can’t understand. Within the Mormon community I feel censure and distrust. I have few friends who can empathize with the loss of faith. Who can grieve with me through this process?

Outside of Mormonism, I am flummoxed by trying to explain what leaving the church means. That it is a complete change of worldview. Is it, perhaps, like having to relearn to walk?

There is a popular LDS song called “I Walk By Faith” that I sang often during my teen years. I identified with this song as a young Mormon who was developing faith in Christ and as an amputee, because each step involved trusting my prosthesis in hopes that it would support my weight. So now on my spiritual journey away from the LDS Church I am learning what it means to walk by uncertainty, to walk by doubt, to walk into completely unknown territory as my heart leads me onwards. Ironically, this seems the biggest leap of faith thus far.

pilgrimclassic: a photo tribute to a well-traveled limb

Originally published on December 13, 2006:

Bidding farewell to most of my leg today as I upgrade the socket, cosmesis, stockings, and so forth. A pilgrimgirl first: a photo essay tribute to a well-traveled limb.

As I put this together I asked myself why I wanted to take pictures of my leg, why this was important to me. And I realized how much I wish I had similar photos of my real leg before it was amputated. To help me remember.

Update: here is a ‘key’ to the photos for those that are difficult to identify
1) both feet
2) my worn-out heel
3) a tear in the covering at my knee
4) the valve that seals my suction socket
5) my big toe w/a shredded nylon over it
6) looking down the back of the leg starting at the heel

pilgrimclassic: I, robot

Originally posted on 3/1/2007:

Sometimes I make jokes about being a “bionic woman” or a “cyborg.” Having a prosthetic leg with a computer-controlled knee joint lends itself to such comparisons. Truth be told, the first thing I’d reach for if there was a house fire in the middle of the night and we needed to exit quickly, wouldn’t be the family photo albums. I’d reach for my robotic leg. It would make sense, given that the leg cost as much as a luxury car. And, of course, because it’s essential for my mobility.

I’ve been robotic for about three years. When I first heard that my insurance would pay for a computerized knee joint, I was thrilled to adopt the technology. I knew that it meant more stability, fewer falls, and a more natural gait. My prosthetist duly warned me not to get it wet, to charge the battery every night for at least three hours, and to notify him at the first sign of any malfunction.

My kids were thrilled with my leg and its robotic possibilities. We wondered what might happen if an evil genius reprogrammed my leg and forced me to rob banks or steal diamonds? We giggled long and hard about that scenario. The first time my battery started running low, I was standing in a grocery checkout line with my son and daughter. We heard the telltale beeps and I felt the vibrating sensation like a cellphone ringer, notifying me that I had 10 minutes to get my leg plugged in or I’d lose power altogether. We raced home and made it just in time. The adventure was more thrilling than a car chase scene in a spy movie.

Some days, however, I feel guilty about owning a leg that cost more than fifty thousand dollars. I think of my limbless sisters and brothers in other circumstances and I realize that dozens—if not hundreds—of low-tech limbs could be purchased for the price of my computerized leg. And I contemplate the thousands of new amputees returning home from Iraq, and those people throughout the world who live in daily fear of loss of life and limb.

Last year my leg malfunctioned while I was traveling in Asia, perhaps a result of using a faulty power adapter for charging my leg. Though there was no way to get the computer repaired during my trip, I was able to continue my travels with my knee stiff–walking as if wearing a cast. Despite the impairment, I carried on with typical tourist activities: scaling the Great Wall, strolling through the markets, touring gardens, and do forth. Nearly every place we visited there were beggars, many of them amputees. I knew I needed to avoid giving handouts or I would be besieged by dozens of people asking for the same. So I kept my hands in my pockets and looked into their eyes and felt heartsick and smug. Contemplating the price that bought my mobility. Feeling my own betrayal.

pilgrim classic: because of all that armpit hair

This is one of my most-googled posts ever. Lots of folks out there in cyberspace searching for hairy armpitted feminists, I suppose. Originally posted on March 8, 2007.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Take a minute to watch this short video “Are YOU a Feminist?”

For whatever reason, feminism seems to be equated with armpit hair and lesbianism. That’s so odd to me, as I don’t know any female feminists that eschew shaving (tho a few male feminists that I know don’t shave their armpits) and only a handful of my feminist friends are lesbians. Why is the feminist label so maligned? Is this a legacy of the Equal Rights Amendment era? Or is this indicative of larger social discomfort with assertive women?

An anecdote: I’ve recently found myself in a social situation where I’ve observed several undergrads who have behaved belligerently towards an older woman in a position of authority over them. These same students treat a young-ish man with a similar position with much greater respect. Though there are many reasons why this might be happening in this particular situation, I suspect that much of it has to do with gender. Most people seem to be uncomfortable with assertive women, but not so with assertive men. IMO, this is a shame. Though the woman might be more qualified and more capable, the man is preferred. Why?

And, also in celebration of IWD and some truly radical feminist women (no hairy armpits, I promise). Take a few moments to watch and listen:

Note: The original clip that I linked to seems to no longer be available. Here’s a similar vid, though with a more contemplative (less militant) bent:

pilgrim classic: the real me

Originally appeared on April 18, 2007:

No pretty flower picture today. Because it’s come to my attention (thanks to my Outhouse friends) that my online persona doesn’t really match up with “me.” For all of you who only know me online and might have this rosy-colored view of Jana, well this is for you:

-I like fart jokes. I make at least one potty-humor comment at dinner each evening.
-My house is a mess. When I cleaned out the fridge last week I found a ton of stuff that had expired in December of last year.
-I like to swear & cuss, especially around John. I’m downright sailor-ish at times.
-I can touch my tongue to my nose and I will perform this “skill” for just about anyone, just about anytime.
-I can be pretty mean. I have strong opinions about most topics and I use big words in an attempt to demean those that I’m arguing with.
-I frequently snort when I laugh.
-When I run into my old boyfriends I often, rather heartlessly, ignore them.
-Sometimes I use my disability as an excuse when I am perfectly capable of doing things. It’s just my way of getting out of things that I don’t want to do.
-During the middle of the day while the kids are at school and John’s at work I frequently do my schoolwork sitting in bed in my underwear. Ignoring the door or the phone. Come to think of it, I rarely answer the phone anytime of day. And I’m horrible about returning messages.
-I don’t like it when people interrupt me when I’m on email.
-I run red lights when no one else is around.
-I bike in ‘no biking’ areas of campus.
-I have a double-chin, but I don’t post photos that show it.
-I enjoy the attention that my ‘different’ body brings. I can walk down the street showing my bionic leg and know that nearly every eye is on me. There’s a headiness to getting so much attention.
-In yoga class I’m rather proud that I’m better at many of the poses than the ‘able-bodied’ participants.
-Sometimes when John is working on something that’s important to him I distract him with sex.
-I kiss my cats more than my husband.
-I manipulate people (especially men) by smiling at them and saying what I think they want to hear.
-If you go out to lunch with me, I will probably dominate the conversation.
-I am frequently uncomfortable with the way other people smell.
-My garden is a big mess of weeds right now. Taking flower pictures is my way of avoiding the ugly needs-work spaces.
-I usually drive my kids to school while I’m still wearing my pajamas.
-I buy things online because I don’t want to be hassled with having to go to a brick & mortar store.
-Sometimes I assign my kids to do the chores that I don’t want to do myself.
-I almost never have any money in my wallet because I don’t want the hassle of going to an ATM or getting cash back at the store.
-I throw away loose change that I find around the house rather than having to put it in a receptacle and roll it for deposit at the bank.
-Sometimes I use schoolwork as an excuse when I want to evade a previous commitment.
-I wrap my leg around John’s legs at night even though I know he doesn’t like it much. And I don’t let him reciprocate.
-I’m not always careful about separating other family members’ laundry by color and fabric although I get really annoyed if they aren’t careful with my clothes.
-If I buy a container of fresh pineapple, I usually eat it all myself even though CatGirl really likes it, too.
-Sometimes I’m too lazy to turn off the bathroom light before I go to bed even though I know it makes it hard for John to sleep.
-I’m not nice in the mornings.
-I play games to win.

pilgrimgirl classic: proclivities

Originally posted 4/10/07

pink&purple, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

Picture: Close-up of a small purple flower with pink stamens.

Recently we watched the movie “Amazing Grace” (which I highly recommend to each of you). The main character, Wilberforce, realizes that he could easily spend his life enjoying nature–studying spiderwebs and gazing into flowers. He find so much satisfaction in his communion with the natural world. Yet he comes to realize that this isn’t his mission in life. Instead, he becomes a politician and is instrumental in ending the British slave trade.

Some days I feel like I lose myself in a flower. Time flies by while I’m in my garden and I start to only care about growing things. The rest of life seems so mundane in comparison. Yet I also have this feeling that I am supposed to do so much more. That gardening is important, even bedrock, for my life. But it’s not the whole of it. There are books to write, and children to raise, and friends to meet. And the flowers will continue to grow. Whether I am wholly absorbed in them or not.