"Oh, God, they're even smiling at me now," Joe said as I was getting out of the car and into the chair at Walmart yesterday. He went on to tell me that two people give him the sad smile that I've been getting since my first day in the wheelchair when they saw him pull the chair out of the car. It's hard to explain exactly how intrusive it is to have these smiles thrust upon you, or even exactly why they are so damned annoying. The face of pity has a wee small sad smile.
Then in the store itself I was trying to push myself around a cart that was blocking the entrance to the aisle I was wanting to go down. The woman with the cart was looking at a display of DVD's and seemed oblivious to the fact that she'd left her cart across the entranceway. I waited for a second for her to notice and just naturally move it, she didn't. I said, politely, "Could you please move your cart so I can get by?" She looked at me with hostility and anger and yanked the cart hard, it bounced out of her hand and against the display knocking several DVD's to the floor. The force of her anger frightened me and I quickly swung round the cart and down the aisle. The face of hostility has flared nostrils.
I put my purchase on the counter and waited for the clerk, a young man, to ring it up. He looked at Joe, behind me, and told him the amount. I pointedly pulled my wallet out of my pocket to pay. He said, "Oh, he is going to pay?" he asked Joe. I answered, "Yes." "Good for you," he said as if he was talking to a little boy with a bunch of coins in his hands. The voice of prejudice is frosted with sugar.
Sometimes you just want to go to Walmart and by a box set of DVD's to take home and watch. Sometimes you just want to be anonymous, inconspicuous. But, in a wheelchair, you never are. It is necessary, just for emotional survival, to be able to surf waves of pity, push through hostility and digest prejudice. There is a real skill to being disabled. I'm discovering, for me, that the biggest skill is figuring out what to fight and what to laugh at, what to take on and what to let go. The difference between courage and cowardice is decision. I decided to smile back, to thank the angry woman for moving her cart and to say, "Yes, good for me," with humour to the clerk.
Courage or cowardice?
I've made my decision. You'll need to make yours.