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.