In honor of Nelson Mandela, this blog chronicles recent experiences I’ve had of “ubuntu” — defined as, “I am, because of you.”

I’d argued eventually successfully with a local Senior Center to advertise that accessibility accommodations would be made if requested for a talk on my new book Occupying Aging. The talk went fine, but then in the discussion portion it was raised to a whole new level by the sharings of a couple in their late eighties. The man talked about going blind, deaf and developing dementia, but walking forward calmly into his new world firmly holding the hand of his wife of forty-some years. There was an almost audible pause in the room as all of us recalculated about if he can do that, what can we do!

Later in the week I was talking with kindergartners about blindness, braille and dog guides. One child asked how I knew where my dog was when we were at home and the harness was off. I explained that at first new dogs wear a bell but that only works for a little while because they learn to walk without jingling the bell when they want to do something bad. But I said, after a while I develop eyes in the back of my head just like their teachers have so I know what the dog is doing. One little boy blurted out: “No, that’s my mom”. A more concrete child argued “You can’t have eyes in the back of your head” and a teacher tried to explain that’s just an expression. I’m still laughing over the child’s “aha” experience that others might have his mom’s talent.

In my annual trip to visit family, there was the usual quota of extra airport screenings and cancelled and delayed flights, but there were many examples both with family and strangers of extra effort being made to make a joyful holiday. A worker at the airport stood and visited with me for a half hour about dogs at one thirty in the morning until my ride came. Luna let a tiny Dachshund cuddle up to her. My brother trekked clear out of security down to the pet relief area by baggage claim at O’Hare Airport and back through security with Luna and me so that Luna didn’t have to go too long between potty stops.

A wonderful holiday tradition in Eau Claire is the Give a Kid a Book program run by the Friends of the Library. During December new or gently used books are collected and then given out to thirty agencies to give to kids who might not be getting other books for Christmas. A friend and I always help with the book distribution at the Salvation Army. We were put in charge of the Christmas books and the dictionaries this year. She was sorting the Christmas books as to age level and reading out occasional interesting titles, like Zombie Christmas. Then she read one that really got my attention: Have a Crappy Christmas. Since the distribution was at Salvation Army and since in previous years Harry Potter books had given them fits, I thought this book needed to be tossed or at least buried at the bottom of the pile. So I asked my friend where was our team leader. She said the leader was across the room and busy. Then she wondered why I was having such a strong reaction to that book. She thought it would be fine for a family who liked to do crafts. Suddenly “crappy” morphed into “crafty” in my mind and I broke into joyful holiday laughter.

Hope you had a crafty Christmas and/or will have a happy healthy New Year full of Ubuntu.

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