Monday, June 23, 2008

Across The River

At the last minute, I decided to get a haircut. We were just about to go grocery shopping and I realized that we were just across the road from the mall and the salon where I go to the groomers. Over we went, Joe went and checked our lottery tickets (still paupers) while I endured a hair cut with someone who wanted to chat.

The best thing about the salon, besides the fact that it's totally accessible, is that it's right beside Teopia, my favourite shop in the mall. The clerks are friendly and I love trying different kinds of teas. We hadn't been there for awhile so I went in and browsed, looking at the new tea pots and tea caddies. When we arrived there were only two other customers in the shop. Two elderly women who were aghast at all the tea paraphinalia that abounded on the shelves.

Done shopping I was heading to the counter to order tea when a guy, maybe 24 or 25 in a sophisticated wheelchair came into the store. He had an adapted joystick that allowed him to steer the chair and he was accompanied by another young fellow and a very pretty young woman. I don't know the relationships that existed between the three of them but I can say they were all obviously in, at least, like with each other.

It was the guy in the wheelchair that was the tea expert and the others gently mocked him. At first he didn't notice me as he was wrapped up in his companions and their conversation. When he did notice me, he got an embarrassed look on his face. Kind of like, "Oh, no, people will think we came on a outing together."

He moved his chair quickly up to the counter and ordered a couple of specialty teas. His friends, caught unaware by his quick movements asked if they weren't staying for a tea. He just tersely shook his head. The teas were scooped into bags, weighed and cost calculated - one of the friends got his wallet out and paid and then slipped his wallet back. They left the store, full of tension.

I felt like, somehow, by being there - I had ruined his time with his friends. I wonder why he thought that he'd be diminished somehow if he was seen in company (or even near) someone else in a wheelchair. Would he be more valued if his friends were all two-footers instead of four-wheelers?

There was something incredibly sad in his disacceptance of me, a disabled guy, occupying the same space that he did. Suddenly his relationship with the other two, the real two, became desperate in my mind - his desperate need for the company of those who walked. His desperate need to borrow their value.

In the Bible we are admonished "to love your neighbour".

Well, buddy, I AM your neighbour.

Those two live across the river.


Kei said...

Oh, ouch~ I'm sorry he acted like that. You did not ruin his time with his friends~ he did that all on his own.


Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

This must have hurt. And I am sorry for that.

The prejudices of our society run so deeply that people who are oppressed participate in the oppression of others. This man was recognizing, however unconsciously, a truth about our society - the deep oppression of people with disabilities. He was staking his valuing on the devaluing of others - in this case you. He recognized that he was more valued in association with able bodied people than in association, however fleeting, with other people who have disabilities.

It isn't right but there it is.
PS - I'll hang out at Teaopia with you anytime :-)

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I just wrote a comment about 5 minutes ago and ended by saying I would hang out at Teaopia with you anytime - the guy obviously didn't know he was missing some really good company. But then I got this idea - are there other people at Dave's blog who would like to meet and hang out? Could we plan something? not the purpose of a blog I know - but it could be fun and there are some pretty interesting people commenting on your blog. Just a thought . . .


Ruth said...

Dave, I was up in Panera's the other day when a similar thing happened with another wheelchair user. I haven't seen this happen too often over the years, just a few times. it always saddens me when I see it.

I am sorry you were treated this way because I know it hurts. when I was playing wheelchair sports, I remember one guy who left after saying to his wife "there are too many people here in wheelchairs!"

I just had to share that true experience in memory of George Carlin. Take care of yourself.

gracie1956 said...

This entry reminds me so much of another thing that has happened to me and maybe to you as well. The thing I am speaking of is homophobia within the gay community. It makes no sense but it does exist. I have had to deal with this from friends and I have also had to confront my own phobia about my own sexuality. It is like we buy the lie told to us about our worth. The only way to dispute these lies is to first look within to see if I have allowed the myth to exist in me. No matter what it is that sets us apart we must first accept ourselves and embrace the differences.

Anonymous said...

gracie1956: Good connection there.

Your comment makes me think of an episode I saw some years ago of "Will and Grace" where Will and Jack go to some gym somewhere ... Jack is being his usual flamboyant self, which embarasses Will more than usual because some of his (hetreosexual) co-workers or future clients or some such go to the same gym.

Afterwards, he vents to Grace about Jack's behavior, and how it isn't safe for him professionally to be out at work or among his clients etc. Then he ends his tirade by asking why Jack has to be such a "f*g."

Naturally, this being a sit com, Jack overhears the whole thing. And naturally, this being Will and Grace (which very rarely gets serious at all, and when it does never stays serious for long) the whole thing is turned into a joke by the end. But you do get this moment of stunned silence when Will uses that slur, and you see this look on his face where you can tell he knows he really shouldn't be thinking/saying/feeling this about being associated with Jack, but this is still his honest gut reaction.

I think there are two major reasons why this kind of intra-community prejudice happens: part of it is the self-acceptance issue, as you point out. Part of it is the fear of being "outed" through association (If I hang out with Person X who is more blatantly gay/disabled/insert label here than I am, then people will realize I, too, am gay/disabled/insert label here and then start to discriminate against me). In the latter case, part of the fear is for what might happen to you for being "outed" (I will be fired; thrown out of the family or household; be beaten up by skin heads; etc.)

I suppose in some cases #1 applies more, in other cases #2 applies more, and in some it's a combination of the two. Or there could be other factors at work that I'm not thinking of.

Or in the case that you are already "out" (for example, if people are already well aware that you use a wheelchair) then perhaps there is the fear that associating with other people with disabilities will simply serve to remind people of a fact that you would rather they forgot about. For example, if you think that people will only accept you by "looking past" your disability and thinking of you as a "normal" person, then you might make an ongoing attempt to always do "normal" things, never refer to your disability or the needs it creats even when it would be highly relevant or even when it might create a large nuisance for yourself (eg by missing out on needed accommodations because asking for them would bring attention to your disability again). Being seen with another person from the same population group would then be perceived as a threat to the attempt to maintain that facade of "normalacy."

Ettina said...

"(If I hang out with Person X who is more blatantly gay/disabled/insert label here than I am, then people will realize I, too, am gay/disabled/insert label here and then start to discriminate against me)"

I often have kind of the opposite reaction - if I hang out with Person X who is more obviously disabled, then my various quirks will be more accepted because rather than being seen as 'rude' or 'weird' they'll think I'm disabled.

Tammy said...

I have nothing to add to all the extremely well written comments already except...I am really sorry this happened and you were made to feel hurt by it. I do think it's just so ingrained in most peoples physce that they aren't even aware of the prejudice they carry in their own hearts.

John Raffaele said...

whew...maybe perhaps this tea-loving person who happens to use a wheelchair is just a jerk? Sorry to be so blatant, Dave, but I would not give him such benefit of doubt....I have known too many people over my many years that regardless of their physical status etc. are just not friendly and/or they are plain ol' snobs.....maybe this is the case for Mr. Fancy Chair..

Forgive me if I sound cold and not empathic...but people can just be yucky regardless of ability or otherwise....that is my take...

sorry for your sadness in this situation...

Hope that your tea is always tasty....

Shan said...

Yeah, it sounds like this dude and that scooter chick who made that asinine remark to you "I don't want people to think we're friends", were separated at birth.

sherripitt said...

Hi, Dave.

In all of my nearly 55 years on this planet, I continue to be amazed and disappointed at how many people only have the capacity to judge based on external "things."

What does that t-shirt say? Now, let's see, the single earring on which side means what? Because she was born in that decade, she must not know about.....fill in the blank.

When I had the good fortune to meet you at B3C near Pittsburgh a few weeks ago (I had the privilege of reading the story at the end of day 2), I met the person I expected. I heard humor, empathy, studied intelligence and much more that I can't think of at the moment.

These are the kinds of qualities that define a person. And, I feel that I'm racing time. I can't afford to waste time by creating distance between myself and others.

I just need to get on with being in the here-and-now, the caring-and-being-open.

Take care. Happy Wonderful (belated) Anniversary.