Monday, June 30, 2008


"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.


lina said...

Interesting Dave, I have to say I would stick with your decisions, but I can't imagine it's easy to pick those everyday.
There must be the days that you want to be angry right back at the angry woman, and let Mr. Goodforyou know exactly what you think. And perhaps that's the right decision on that day....still surprises me....this world and the closed mindnesses of some......closed eyes....sad for them too, they miss out on much.

Martijn said...

When a shoppingcart is just loose in the isle, with no-one holding it or noticing it's in my way, I just push it out of the way. Preferable with lots of noise so the owner notices he has left his cart annoyingly in the way (not only for me, but for veryone) of that guy in the wheelchair who now has to struggle to get by. (what? me evil?)

Clercs adressing my company instead of me I havent't encountered in a long time. It would depend on my mood how I'd react. If I just don't mind making a fuss, I answer and proceed with paying, but if I'm in the mood, I'd give him the same treatment as the shoppingcart-guy, but only if he doesn't get the point.

Yeah, I'm an a-hole sometimes. :)

Anonymous said...

Everyday I encounter that same inner struggle.
Do I say something to the other parents who stare as I drop my kid off at day care?
Do I slap the people who make comments so ignorant you forget it's 2008?
Do I correct the folks who mistake me for a consumer instead of an employee as I roll into my office each day?
No, no I don't do anything of those things although sometimes I am tempted. My 32 years of life and use of a chair almost all of it has taught me that there are bigger battles I was put on this earth to fight. Life is short, I'd rather spend it laughing then in anger.

Anonymous said...

You do what you have to do to keep smiling, just like everyone else.

gracie1956 said...

I'm still trying to figure out which lesson I'm suppose to be learning in this life. Is it to accept with grace and dignity all the things that go with being in a wheelchair, including being patient with idiots who don't have a clue, or is it to straighten out the idiots by letting them know just what idiots they are. Hmmm, maybe it is to do both depending on which day it is, idiot day at wal-mart or I just can't be bothered by idiots day. I wonder...were there so many idiots before I was in a wheelchair or...oh my god, I hope I wasn't one of the idiots back then.

FridaWrites said...

I think that was a good decision, to smile back at the hostile woman. Probably caught her off guard. I don't understand that kind of hostility. I feel embarrassed when I have blocked other people in. Not sure how I'd have reacted to the clerk. I think I don't get that quite as much using the scooter rather than a wheelchair; people's perceptions differ.

John R. said...

I think that generally people are in the "pity-ticket" mode when that puke-tinged smile is seen. But, I do feel that deep inside they are seeing and feeling their own stuff about ability and disability. I think that people who are not famiiar or used to those with different abilities witness people doing "typical/normal" stuff it sets them to thinking....what if that was me? Would I be doing that? Would I be so gregarious? Would I stay at home and be unuseful in the world and to myself?

Even in my role as a staff developer and trainer, I constantly am amazed at the staff who act shocked when a person we support wishes to drive or wants to go to Vegas. In short order, once they are in the context of living and supporting and learning about disabilities, they get the epiphany....of course this person can do anything they desire with the right support!!!

The world needs just to expand its definitions of diversity and INCLUDE people with intellectual differences, people who use wheelchairs, people who etc.......get my point? Time will help us....I hope.

retiredwaif said...

Yeah, I posted about this just today... I was cooingly asked if I was out on an "outing" while trying to find good condoms at CVS. The wheelchair, man, it makes asses out of people.

rosemerry said...

I work in the retail industry and this had definitely opened my eyes a bit. I will definitely watch myself and my reactions.

My brother is developmentally slow and I've seen him as disabled and I have always treated him as if nothing is wrong so I hope this attitude I have towards my brother extends to others.

Stephanie said...

Just a note to say WOW!! I have been reading your blog only a few days and I love it! Your writing is captive and I feel alive in the moments with you, the humor, the anger, all of the emotions flow through me, that means you are one awesome writer! You make people think and I thank you for that.

Robin Calrk said...

Ecommerce shopping cart as opposed to the real shopping cart is not just about accumulating the stuff that one wants to buy. It transcends that petty objective partly because of the fact that it is virtual. Apart from the fact it helps people in selecting the goods they want to buy; it also attends to other objectives like calculating the total amount payable, making the task of keeping track of the customers and the goods sold for the owner etc. Actually it won’t be wrong to say that the ecommerce shopping cart is the backbone of every ecommerce web site.

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