We had to kill time before picking friends up at the airport. "A movie!?!?" I asked, brightly, I love movies and we found one that we wanted to see that started in a couple of hours. The theatre is located in a mall and we decided to catch a late lunch at a cafe in the courtyard of the mall.
When we got there it had been overtaken. It was like the 'granny bus' had spilled over and there were at least thirty older women there, all with walkers, all sipping coffee and all talking. The din was overwhelming as the smell of lavender perfume.
There was one table left, kind of in the middle so we had to disturb several women to get to the table. As Joe went to get lunch I sat alone in a sea of elderly women. They say, "No man is an island" ... well, I was. I felt very male. Very young. Very alone.
One of the women next to me smiled, which I always see as an invitation to chat so I did. "Where do you all come from?" Turns out they come from all over. It's part of a three time weekly mall walk and they always finish up by going for coffee and a bite to eat. I commented that it was a nice ritual and she smiled and said, "It's good to still have things to look forward to."
That was it I thought, but she said, "How long have you been disabled?" So I told her that it was about a year and a half now. She asked more medical questions. I truly am getting older because talking about and hearing about health issues is actually interesting to me.
Then I asked her, "What about you, how long have you been disabled."
She was affronted. Offended.
"I just use a walker to help me walk and to give me somewhere to sit when I need it." Anger was in her voice. "I am NOT disabled."
The sharpness in her tone caught the other women. One said, "What's wrong dear?" And she explained that I had 'called' her disabled. Like I had called her a name or something.
Then granny 2 said, "We may be old but we're not disabled."
Granny 3 pipes up and says, "Admit it girls, we're disabled. We use walkers and we park in the special spots and none of us can do what we used to." Eyes rolled, you could tell Granny 3 liked to set the cat amongst the pigeons.
I became irrelevant now as these women hotly debated their status as disabled people. I didn't realize that women who look life if they were cut they'd bleed cookie dough could have such harsh mouths. They swore without swearing - clever.
When it calmed a bit, I jumped in again, "So precisely what's wrong with having a disability?" Granny 3, who I suspect has a PhD in Life, said, "I don't think it's really about disability, I think it's the change in status. We are already disrespected because we're old and frail, add on that being crippled - it seems like another step away from a life of respect."
Granny 3 and I then got into a real converstation and the others went on. I occasionaly got an evil eye from Granny 1 but other than that she ignored me. But Granny three was interested in talking about disability. So I explained the idea of 'disability' community. She said, "What would that be like." I looked up and pointed to a see of elderly disabled women together. In an instant she got it. We exchanged phone numbers and she got teased by the other women for 'picking up a guy at the mall'. We both laughed.
On her way out she stood and watched them all hustle their walkers towards the door and the waiting vans.
"There could be power here, couldn't there?"
"If all those with disabilities, not inconvieniences but disabilities, organized and found a voice, there'd be more than power there could even be revolution."
She patted my face and joked, "I like my men to have a bit of fire."
And off she went.
She may have been the only one of those women who understood who she was, the group that she belonged to, and with that understanding saw disability as not a loss of status but as a change in status.
Imagine what this community could be if we moved beyond shame and embraced each other.