Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Bitter From The Sweet

For the past several days we've had the inconvienience of having to go downstairs to the car in the underground parking lot. From elevator to lot isn't accessible in that it involves one step up and one step down. Maybe not much of a barrier to you, but to me, it's enormous. But because of the snow and the construction at the front of the building that's what we've been doing.

At the step I get out of my wheelchair, brace myself against both walls with arms outstretched and then lift one foot and them pull myself up. It doesn't sound arduous but it is. Not so much the energy but the panic that comes from a fear of falling is almost overwhelming. I feel a sense of real accomplishment when I get back into the chair and roll over to the car.

But they've cleared out the front of the building during the holidays and our driveway is now in full working order. I pulled off the elevator into the lobby to wait while Joe went down to get the car and pull round. I chatted with several people who came into the building. It almost seemed like all the youngsters in the building were away somewhere as everyone seemed quite elderly and many used canes or walkers themselves.

Everyone enquired about holidays and exchanged delighted remarks about how wonderful they had been and continue to be. One woman stopped to talk to me, I think she was both chatty and pleased to be able to stop and catch her breath for a moment. She suggested that going out in the wheelchair was 'folly' until I explained to her that I was waiting for a car. When the elevator came she bid me farewell and thanked me for a pleasant chat.

When she got on the elevator I heard her saying hello to a woman who was coming up from doing laundry in the basement. As the door closed she said, 'That big man in the wheelchair, you know he's not at all bitter!'

I think it's odd that people are surprised at the lack of bitterness in a person with a disability. It is my experience, and I know that this is perhaps biased by the fact that it is my experience, that people with disabilities tend not to be very bitter people at all. I find bitterness more often in a certain type of soul not a in a different type of body.

Years ago I had a friend who became increasingly bitter as my career started to take off and I was being invited to speak and to publish more and more often. He couldn't understand why he, a handsome thin man, was being passed over in his work while I was flourishing in mine. He felt, somehow, that I needed to be 'punished' for my weight and for my decidedly unfashionable sense of fashion.

Then too, I met a woman who was very successful - in the eyes of the world. Yet privately she was bitter and angry. She felt every possible slight. Looked for ill will behind every compliment. Looked for mockery in every welcoming smile. She could look at beauty and see only competition. She could not bite into her life for fear of poison.

Bitterness and regret are disabling conditions, much more so than the necessity of a wheelchair or the use of a communication board. Bitterness and regret wash colour out of the world, taste out of your mouth and pleasure out of your skin. Bitterness and regret are habitual disabilities that reinforce themselves, they take moments and twist them into horrible shapes, they take expectations and form them into threats, they feed on fear and feast on terror.

I don't know what the old woman expected to find buried in her conversation with me, but I'm glad that when she expected bitter - she tasted sweet. It means that I've lived, successfully, through another year.


Belinda said...

May all of our hearts be sweet pillows of purity, unfettered by bitterness, envy or easy offence.

What a wonderful start to preparin for a whole new year. It's not here yet, but this is when I start thinking of these things. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

First, a side note to Andrew, if he is reading this: I left a response to the comment you left in Dave's recent post, Survey Says (where you wished there were no labels).

Second: I've never quite understood where the "bitter" stereotype comes from. Fortunately I haven't really run into it myself as a Deaf person. (Except maybe indirectly, where people express surprise that I, as a Deaf person, can still be cheerful "despite everything I have to deal with" or surprise at my patience with people who don't immediately "get" my deafness or what I need because of it)

I suppose this stereotype is partly rooted in the assumption that anyone with a disability must feel their supposed "loss" very keenly at every moment of every day for the rest of their lives. I think this might be a reaction to people's limited imaginations: they try to imagine themselves as a disabled person and can only see the perceived loss. They don't know enough to realize that many of the things they *think* they would lose don't actually got lost, they just get done differently (for example, a deaf person doesn't lose the experience of watching television, they just start watching it with captions). They also forget that people who are born with a disability have learned all along all the skills they need to build a life around the fact that they can't do a certain, very narrow set of things--but that they CAN do a great many OTHER things. And they forget that even people who acquire a disability much later in life (who might, indeed, suffer a great deal of grief in the first few years while they're still learning new ways of doing things, and learning to accept that they will now need to do certain things differently) do usually adjust and learn to cope over time. So why assume that grief will neccesarily turn to bitterness, or that bitterness is automatically going to entrench itself?

Andrew said...

Just goes to show how we can change others opinions without even realising it! Purely just 'being' is truly effective!

p.s. to Andrea Shettle, - I've responded on the original post you referred to.

rickismom said...

Bitterness and anger are the worst disability of all....

Becca said...

I've found that sometimes that bitterness comes from a serious lack of self esteem, and you have to wonder at what point their lives took that turn--sometimes it can be ingrained from an unfulfilling childhood. Very sad.

Kim said...

I know just what you mean! I've been blind since birth and a quadriplegic since 2004. I've had people ask me why I'm not bitter and mad at the world. I don't understand why I should be at all!

I've even had people accuse me of not accepting that I'm disabled because I'm happy and they wouldn't be with one disability, let alone three.

I guess the problem is they only see things in a negative way. They don't see that I have a great guide dog, a puppy I'm training to become my next guide/service dog, a very loving and wonderful boyfriend and some really good friends. I've gotten to meet so many people and go so many places because of my "disabilities". Experiences I wouldn't have had otherwise. I would not be the person I am today if I wasn't "disabled".

I'd rather be "disabled" than bitter any day! I really think bitter people are more disabled than anyone just because of their attitudes!

I also have to get over a step to get to the parking garage, but my boyfriend just lifts up the front of my wheelchair on the way down the step and pulls me over it by the front on the way back. I still don't know why they couldn't have put a small ramp there!

Terri said...

Amen! Type of soul, not body--Amen.