Monday, November 16, 2015

I Accessorize With Crutches

As I limped out the door at the head of a procession of some 340 multimillionaire donors, a crisply uniformed contingent of the University of South Carolina band struck up an enthusiastic march--it was rather (I told the golf-cart driver who was giving me a lift to the alumni center) like being the President and having my entrance greeted with "Hail to the Chief".

The well-heeled who could walk comfortably passed between the brass players and ascended the front stairs, but I was trucked around back to the handicapped entrance, where I could hobble through on level ground.

My former roommate Jenny, a major donor to USC, had invited me to be her escort for this past Friday's festive black-tie conclusion to our graduate alma mater's multi-year billion-dollar fundraising campaign. Thanks to my estate sale shopping, I had a fabulous dress already, which just so happened to coordinate well with the brushed silver crutches on which I had to rely.

You haven't suffered for modern developed-world fashion until you have balanced 132lbs on one high, opened-toed satin heel for the duration of a cocktail party. At least I got loads of compliments on my dress--a vintage beaded and sequined black lace piece sewn in the British Royal Crown Colony of Hong Kong, it was trimmed at the bottom with white ermine. At least seven women came up to me to exclaim over it, but as I told Jenny, some portion of this attention was due to my crutches.

I rest assured no one in the room paid as little for their attire as I did. I know I'd seen some versions of those dresses either online in the couture section of Neiman Marcus or at the Academy Awards. Jenny herself was stunning in a garnet and black gown that elegantly reflected the school colors.

Curiously, I happened to be assigned to sit at dinner right next to a fellow whose name I recognized--it turns out that he was an art collector with whom I had worked sixteen years ago when I was a museum intern! Small world. But then the first course consisted of sliced beets sprinkled with green leafy things, a combination almost worse than mile-long spaghetti drowning in sauce as far as food  impossible to eat politely. And then garlic bread!  It is difficult to be charming when one has green leaves stuck between one's teeth and furthermore when one is breathing garlicky hellfire at one's  conversation partner.  I ran out of clever things to say before the dessert course, and silently stuffed in my salted chocolate mousse cream brûlée before staggering erect to toast the school and its patrons and spilling my ice water all over the linen tablecloth. Can't take me anywhere, I swear.

Muscle and ligament tears don't show up on x-rays, and I believe that that is causing my increased pain level in my ankle--it hurts worse now than a week ago. Another source of discomfort is the crossbar of the crutches--the pressure on my palms of supporting 60 kilos of KYP for a week has been considerable, and both are profoundly sore.

Thank God Jenny was able to strongarm a staff member into ordering another golf cart to take us back to her car midway through Saturday's USC-Florida game (which the Gators won by a 14 point margin)--I don't believe that I would have been able to make the distance independently. Truly, crutch-using opens your eyes to how difficult it is to navigate supposedly accessible spaces--formerly small distances stretch out to eternities, and obstacles like stairs and challenges like carrying a cup of tea seem insurmountable. And the USC athletics program employees were mostly completely oblivious and/or downright unhelpful when it came to responding to my sample mobility issues. I'm sure out of the 70+ thousand people packing the stands, I was not the only one in need of assistance (then or previously), yet you would think I'd dropped from the moon for all the relevant preparedness the stadium staff displayed.

I had heard about the first attack in Paris on my drive to Columbia. Then I was preoccupied by dressing, makeup and chat for several hours, until I slipped my phone out of my purse after the cocktail party to find the horrific magnitude of the terrorism. Most of the guests were blissfully unaware of the unfolding nightmare until they sat at dinner, when the campus minister asking the general blessing called for a moment of silence to remember the victims.

It is true that the western media largely ignored similar events in Beirut a day or so earlier, acting as if such things are to be expected as a matter of course in Lebanon, but not near the Champs Elysees. Which, sadly, is often the case these days, but no less devastating to the people involved. IS (Islamic State) has since vowed to bring similar mayhem to North America, which in turn has prompted an apparently hysterical rejection of all Syrian refugees by many state governors and Republican presidential candidates. I must say from a strategic point of view, it would be foolish of IS not to try to infiltrate potential terrorists into the West using the vehicle of the chaotic flight of citizens from that embattled territory. But from a Christian point of view, I find it unconscionable that we would reject thousands of the needy because of this fear of a few. On the other hand, I do not see our national government making intelligent decisions about how to distinguish friend from foe, so the process of admitting desperate migrants is likely to be problematic. Still, I don't think Americans should delude themselves into thinking that the IS threat can be repelled by excluding refugees--like other countries, we manage to produce our own homegrown wannabe jihadists. Now can be a great opportunity for outreach and evangelism if the church (international) addresses this situation boldly, but it can also be an opportunity for calamity if national leaders (and potential national leaders) react unwisely.

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