Eventually even me.
We stopped at Petro-Can to fill up the car and had to wait until a lane cleared by the pump so we could pull in. We'd passed several other stations without line ups, but here we sat. Joe collects Petro-Points and refuses to gas anywhere else. It's one of his, um, quirks. I didn't notice anything at first, then I saw a young guy about twenty staring intently at something. I put my eyes on his gaze and slid along to see the object of his attention. "Oh, stop," I thought to myself. He was staring at a man, about the same age as he was, with Down Syndrome who was pumping gas into a car.
"Surely," I thought, "people are used to seeing the disabled amongst us being out and in the community doing every day things."
Then I noticed that everyone else was staring too. Really looking at this guy. This was more than "Wow look at the disabled guy pump gas." This was something else.
So I took in the whole scene. He was pumping gas into a car. The car was empty. Forgive me for what I thought, but I thought that his mom or dad was probably in the service center going to the washroom. He finished pumping gas, went in to the little kiosk and paid.
Now, I understood what people were looking at. staring at, seeing. He got into the car, on the driver's side.
Started the engine.
Even I reeled at that. I had heard of people with Down Syndrome driving, but I'd never seen it before. My automatic assumption was that he was a passenger. That because he had Down Syndrome he'd never ever be in the driver's seat.
They weren't staring at him. Those people at the gas station. I think that something different was going on. They were re-evaluating eveything they ever thought about someone with Down Syndrome. They were ripping apart pre-conceived notions. They were having prejudice challenged.
Admittedly, so was I.
Just when I thought that I had it all together, some guy with Down Sydrome drives me off the road. Makes me realize how deep my own prejudices run.
I wonder, though, about the effect he will have. On me, it was immediate. I reached inside myself and raised the bar - set expectations higher - not for them - for me.
But I wonder if that twenty something guy who's stare I'd noticed. Should he ever get the news that his wife is carrying a baby with Down Syndrome, will he remember the guy with the car, pumping gas. The guy who drove off. The guy who is living a life, unpredicted. The guy doing things, unexpected. The guy who dreams, unencumbered.
I truly hope so.