It was the happiest smile I've seen in ages. Completely genuine. Reflecting 100% un-self-conscious happiness. Joe and I were headed south on Yonge street and the wind was blowing a bitter cold. I'm sure I was frowning as I headed into the wind, Joe had his head down and therefore noticed him first.
Well, noticed not exactly him, but the tip of his cane. I noticed Joe's gaze change and I looked and saw the white cane, first, and then the huge bright smile next. The young man may have been just over twenty. He was with someone who was obviously training him to use the cane to get around the neighbourhood. He was barrel-assing up the street with a real abandon in his walk. She, the trainer, was spectacular. She did nothing to slow him or diminish the moment for him.
As he passed us he said to her, 'I'm on Yonge Street now aren't I?' She said 'Yes.' He said, 'Heading North.' She said 'Yes,' and he WHOOPED his excitement. It was wonderful to just be there, invisibly, as this young man experienced the freedom that is hidded behind the stereotype of disability.
I remember my butt sitting down in my wheelchair for the first time. Then I remember, moving. In that moment the 'lie' about wheelchairs was revealed to me. I imagine, but do not know, that that young man felt that way once he learned to use the white cane in his hand. The white cane should not ever be seen as a symbol for blindness, it should be seen as the symbol for freedom, for Independence, for walking North on Yonge Street with glee.
Then I was having a sip of tea and while waiting for Joe to go pee. This is an increasingly frequent way we spend our time. A woman was approaching a friend of hers. I smiled to myself because it seemed like a comedy sketch. Two old friends, each on walkers, approaching each other. If music had been playing, they'd have to have gone round the score a couple of times. He had a tee shirt on that said, 'Kiss me I'm Irish.'
When she got up to him she pointed to his shirt and said 'That's a lot of blarney!' He grinned, reached down and put the breaks on his walker and then leaned forward on the handles and let his legs fly in a jig. They both laughed and he got his kiss.
A walker shouldn't be seen as a symbol for aging, it should be seen as a symbol of freedom, movement and determination.
Here's to canes and to walkers and to wheelchairs. Here's to the way we move! Here's to the freedom that lay hidden behind the fear of disability. Here's to the reality of disability that lay hidden behind years of misconception.
White canes, worn walkers and powerchairs, oh my.