So we decided to go out for a beer. I need to let the secret slip. I haven't had a drink of any kind of booze for almost three years now. I've lost the taste for it. I still enjoy the environment of a pub, I just sit there (primly) in my wheelchair and order tea. Anyways, we decided to go out for a beer. I was a bit worried about getting back because the bar we'd chosen was downhill from us. So getting there was easy. But downhill one way is uphill back. Even so Joe felt we were up to the challenge.
On arriving we were greeted by the bartender, who we used to know from our Toronto days long past. Several people stopped by the table to say 'hi' and 'welcome back to Toronto'. It was nice, albeit surprising. I didn't think that our absence would be noted or our return greeted. I thought we were a little more anonymous that we apparently are.
One old guy, he's our age, stopped by our table with a grin. He'd heard that we'd moved back to Toronto and said he was hoping to run into us because he had a story to tell. He mentioned that he had just had a grandson and before we could congratulate him he raised his hand so he could continue uninterupted. His grandson was born with Down Syndrome.
He recounted an evening in the bar which happened, maybe 25 years ago. He had made some comment that I thought was derogitory to people with disabilities and I called him on it. We got into a furious debate and I'd called him a bigot. As he spoke I began to recall bits and pieces of that argument. Believe it or not I don't have that argument very often - not as often as I'd like actually. Suddenly it all came back to me. We were at our corner table, smoking furiously, and he and I were in a shouting match. I told him that it was unthinkable that someone who experienced prejudice should espouse prejudice. (I still believe that.) Anyone from any kind of minority should have a deep understanding of what it was to be pre-judged, to be seen as a member of a group rather than an individual, to be dismissed without having been met.
Soon after our argument, he took the opportunity to volunteer at his son's school in the reading programme. He and his wife had separated (she was intolerant of her husband being gay - who'd a thought) and he wanted a way to stay very involved in his son's life. One of his jobs became reading to the special needs children and in no time at all he discovered that 'special needs were typical needs' (his line and I'm going to use it again and again and again). He fell in love with a little girl with Down Syndrome and was surprised at her capacity for 'just being human'.
Meeting that girl prepared him for the moment his son told him that they were going to have a baby with Down Syndrome he was thrilled for his son. 'It's a different journey but the same destination' (his line and I'm going to use it ....) He got all teary as he spoke about his grandbaby and how all is fine with family and with life.
Then he thanked me for calling him a bigot and making him think. He said that an encounter that I probably didn't even remember (I didn't until he brought it up) made a difference in his life, a difference he was grateful for. When he was done I gave him a few of the 'Words Hit' cards that I carry in my wheelchair bag. He read it, grabbed me into a big hug and said thanks.
We stopped several times on the way uphill home for Joe to catch his breath, he is a year older than me, and at one of the pauses we reflected on the conversations we have in our lives. We never know who hears our words, but we can be assured they are heard. Suddenly, right on Yonge Street, Joe pulled me into a hug.
It was his birthday and I kept getting gifts.