Joe and I were driving along a stretch of I 90 on our way to work in Massachusetts talking about the conference on Tuesday. I enjoyed hearing Joe's favourite moments, I liked his list a lot and even asked him to write them up in a blog and the silence which followed the request clearly indicated that hell would, indeed, have to freeze over. I was remembering a woman who we had lunch with who spoke with a heavy cerebral palsy accent. I remembered how much she worked to speak and how motivated she was to make connections with others.
Then I got a pinpricky feeling all over. I had wildly misunderstood her. From the start, I think I got it wrong. Let me tell you what happened.
During my keynote speech I told a story in which I became almost nakedly honest with how I am sometimes treated a wheelchair user. I wanted to convey, very very clearly, the depth of emotion that can happen when treated like out of place furniture, like something that needs to be yanked out of one place and into another. I've said this often, before, in my lectures in this story. But that day it was different because I saw a lot of people in my audience that I thought would truly understand what I was saying.
Later I met her in the entrance hallway, she said something kind to me about my talk but before she finished we were both whisked away by the crowds. Bumping into her later I noticed that she too was wearing wheelchair gloves and commented on hers, a lovely deep red. Still, even later, she sat at the same lunch table with me. I joked with her about drinking wine and she laughed. I saw again her struggle to speak to me, but there were too many people and not enough time.
Later still, nearing the end of the day, I was sitting by the booktable listening to Justin Hines' wonderful concert and she was pushed up to me by her staff. She said, 'I like you.' I was immediately embarrassed by her expression of affection. I am embarrassed by almost all expressions of affection. I made a silly joke, 'That's cause you drank too much wine at lunch.'
She was kind and laughed.
In the car that whole day played by my mind's eye in seconds and I knew immediately that I had misunderstood her and maybe even disrespected her. I don't think, now, that she was telling me that she had a crush on me, or that she fancied me, or anything even remotely similar. What was I thinking? I think that my talk had touched her in some real way, in some powerful way. I think she connected with my frustrations with being something pushed and pulled, with being something that sits in rather than is included in, with being something less. I think that my mouth that works quickly expressed what she with her mouth that works slowly has wanted to say for years.
I think I got her wrong.
Fortunately she lives recieving service from Vita. When I get back I'm going to invite her out for lunch. I'm going to apologize for my mind rushing way ahead of her ability to use words. Then, we're going to talk. Chairman to chairwoman, we're gonna talk. Because, and I'm sure of this she has much to say - all I have to do is make time. And that, I've got.