**** I am right now sitting at Yellow House Cafe, leeching their high-speed internet and working on an article. I was planning to postpone this week’s ED series again, but I had a conversation with my dad and before I knew it I’m typing away as fast as I can on my blogging platform.
Thanks, dad, for the inspiration. As always.
And another thank you to Kim and John for driving all the way from Las Vegas and spending an evening and a whole day with me. More on our hilarious adventures together next time. Final thank you to Ellie for just being plain awesome and hiking up Griffith Park with me.
Tomorrow is my first day back to school. Cannot believe I’m a junior already! ****
When I was a little girl, my absolute favorite story was that of Helen Keller.
Do you know the story of Helen Keller? She was a person born in the late 1800s who became deaf, dumb and blind since young after a horrible illness. Imagine the rage and frustration as a young child to face such limitations in life. Why, even just losing one of your senses is crippling and devastating enough. How do you live when you’ve lost all three of your most basic human abilities? As expected, Helen was a bitter, angry child who would fly into screaming tantrums, understanding and enjoying little of what life has to offer.
And then came her new governess Anne Sullivan. Anne became Helen’s friend. She wasn’t her overprotective, distraught parents. She wasn’t pitying onlookers who kept a comfortable distance away. She didn’t try to become Helen’s eyes or ears or mouth. She gave Helen ways to enjoy life even without those things.
And most importantly, she gave Helen love. And I believe that Helen, by receiving and accepting Anne’s love—even though she could neither see it or hear it—learned to love herself, love life and in turn, love others.
Years later, Helen became the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor’s degree and became a world-famous author and speaker. And when asked who she would like to see the most if her eyes ever opened, Helen, of course, said: “Anne Sullivan—my lifelong benefactor.” She also said, “If it had not been for Anne Sullivan, the name of Helen Keller would have remained unknown.”
It’s a beautiful story, isn’t it? Every time I hear it, I get goosebumps.
I remember as a kid being all proud and haughty, thinking that I was probably the few individuals who “got it”— the real heroine wasn’t Helen Keller, it was Anne Sullivan.
“I’ll bet everybody else thinks Helen’s the one who’s so great because she overcame all her disabilities, but I think the true great person is really Anne,” I told my mom proudly. “Without Anne, Helen wouldn’t have become the person she became.” And then I would strut around with scornful eyes at my peers, thinking they are so dumb and patting myself on the back for being oh so wise.
Cut me some slack though. I was about six at the time; I clearly hadn’t learned the meaning of modesty yet. I also remember wanting to be a teacher for kids with disabilities, but somewhere in between maturity and puberty, I realized that I just didn’t have the kindness and patience to be a teacher to anyone.
What an irony, that more than a decade down the road, I found myself in my own Helen Keller story—except I was “Helen,” and “Anne” was not limited to just one individual.
Having an eating disorder is very much like having disabilities. People don’t know how to deal with you. You don’t know how to deal with yourself. But you’re like an invalid—you need someone to take care of you. And even those who pitied you at first, get frustrated and tired of you after having to deal with your disabilities.
But worst of all, you come to see yourself as an invalid, so you act even more like one. You depend on people to say or do things to make you feel better about yourself, you depend on your rules and routine to make you feel safe, you depend on your obvious disorder to remove you from real society, real problems and real responsibilities.
At first, you might fight for your identity. You might deny that the disorder affects you as much as people say it does. You might debate over the political correctness of the word “invalid” versus “a person with *insert some obscure scientific-sounding word here* disability.” You might get angry with people who look at you with scorn or pity.
However, at some point, you give up. You might not even realize the moment when you completely surrendered yourself to be defined by your disability, but one day, you find yourself speaking, doing, and thinking exactly the way you and others expect you to. Slowly, you actually want people to give you that special treatment. Because at least you know you are not an invisible Mr. Cellophane. At least you have…some sort of…identity.
I admit, that’s how I felt at first with my church. Besides for my parents, the brothers and sisters in my church were the only people I regularly met. My friends were all in college and I avoided them at all costs because I didn’t want them to see me all shrunken and shriveled up like flattened prune. I rarely went out the house except for my daily 3-hour-long walks, in which I was too absorbed in burning calories to even notice other people.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid church. As I’ve said before, it was one thing my parents were adamant about. Thank God, because otherwise, I would not have had the chance to meet my “Anne”s.
That’s the great blessing in life. To meet an Anne. A person who can demonstrate love to you when you yourself cannot. But to have not just one, but several? To now, I don’t know what I did to deserve that. It is entirely God’s grace.
Even though I generally tried to avoid people at church, sitting standing (must burn more calories!) at a secluded place, hiding in another isolated place to eat my own packaged food instead of the fat-laden, sugar-laden snacks the other church people socialized over and high-tailing the moment service was finished, somehow I couldn’t completely avoid them.
Actually, quite a few individuals kept approaching me. It was really annoying, actually. I wanted them to stop touching me and stop talking to me so that I could go away and munch on my sweet potato and yogurt and not be tempted by their white-flour, white-sugar sweet Asian breads. But either they ignored my look of discomfort, or they really didn’t notice, they just wouldn’t stop talking to me. And treating me like I’m a normal person. Treating me…with respect.
I think any human being is born with an innate ability to detect bullshit and insincerity. You can tell whether a person is real or not. And there were individuals at church who actually truly were sincere in wanting to get to know me better, to have a relationship with me. It was…strange. Frankly, it was also scary. But mostly, it was…nice.
After month after month of such interactions, I gradually opened up. I actually mustered up the courage to go out for meals with them (they even created a “Sophia Day” for me). A lady even invited me to sleep over for a few days (I helped her cook). I learned to smile again. I learned to trust again. I learned to talk about normal things.
But at the same time, my faith in God was also growing. Because these were church individuals, a big chunk of our conversation topic was spiritual. At the time my weight was so low that I would get out of breath if I talked too much, so I mostly listened. I listened to their testimonies of how Christ changed their lives, and I observed the way they lived out their faith.
Those were the rare times when my thoughts weren’t focused on myself but other individuals. I saw that they weren’t perfect; they had flaws and they made mistakes. But I also saw how they struggled and overcame those failures in life, how they gained strength and reassurance through God’s words and how much they love Christ. It was quite a novel and refreshing observance for me, as a pastor’s daughter who grew up under holy and near-perfect parents (well in my eyes, anyway).
I don’t know exactly how this happened, but suddenly, I wasn’t just an observer anymore. After some time, I was starting to share, too.
I tell you, the Holy Spirit is so infectious. When you see genuine passion and fire in someone, you can’t help but feel it yourself too, and when you feel it, you just cannot help wanting to talk about it.
Obviously I wasn’t healed or anything, and I still stuck obstinately to my routines and disordered behaviors at the time, but…I could still share a verse I liked, or discuss what the week’s sermon meant to me, or simply just request a prayer. Yes, at times my words got lispy and hoarse because of my physical state, but seeing my words were being heard and received was the most amazing comfort I had experienced in a long time.
I still remember the one time I shared a verse to my Friday bible group. It was a verse in Psalms that really touched me during a particular hard day, and after I finished reading, I looked up and I saw several people have tears in their eyes.
I cannot describe this feeling I felt then with justice. It is like these ashes within me were starting to whisper in a warm breeze, and a flame had been lit. It’s like stirring up after a long, dreamless sleep. It’s like…you are drenched for hours in a dreadful storm, and all of a sudden, you start humming a cheerful tune even though the rain is still pouring and you are still wet to the bone. Me? Being able to share something? What a strange, foreign yet delicious idea.
The strangest thing is that before I felt I was even ready, God sent me my own “Helen.”
Turns out, Anne Sullivan had her own benefactor, too. She wasn’t born a great, wonderful person. She had a dysfunctional background, an alcoholic father who abandoned her and her siblings, a brother who died and a history of “insanity” in which she would attack anyone who tried to approach her. And then. She met an elderly nurse. A nurse who not just took care of her, but showed her love and compassion.
Life is a strange game. It’s not about the beginning or the final product. It’s about the process between the start and the final. That’s where all the action lies. The dice that determines how much you get, how far you go is love.
I really do believe love conquers all, and that love is the most important and desired thing in the world. After all, my life is proof of that, too. Without my family and my church brothers and sisters, I wouldn’t be here typing this right now.
Questions to Ponder:
1) Do you have an “Anne”? What about a “Helen”?
2) When you are at your weakest, how would you like people to treat you?
3) What about you yourself? How would you like to treat/view yourself during your weakest moments?