Wednesday, January 19, 2011

L'Autre Cote De La Rue

When I got on the bus this morning my usual place on the left side of the bus, behind the driver, was taken by a pleasant young woman in a very powerful wheelchair. I was strapped in on the other side of the bus and we were off. We headed up Yonge Street, as is fairly typical for my morning trip. As we were going I realized that I had never, ever, ridden on that side of the bus taking this route.

When riding the bus I always entertain myself by looking out the window. Others who share rides with me use the time differently, playing games on small gaming devices, texting on phones, reading or sleeping. Me, I enjoy simply watching the world pass by. One of the joys of traveling WheelTrans is that every trip is different and I get to know my city by seeing each trip as an exploration. So, because I had always sat on the left side of the bus, I’d only ever seen the west side of Yonge as we headed north. Today, I saw the east side of Yonge as we travelled.

It was marvelous. It was like moving to a whole new city. I saw the wonders of the East and realized that it was a very different world than the West. Very, very cool. It seemed to be life’s way of showing me that there are ‘two sides’ to every street and thus, ‘two sides’ to every point of view. I find myself sometimes getting stuck, getting mired down in negativity or becoming hell bent on being ‘relentlessly positive’ (as I have been called).

It’s important that I don’t get so enmeshed in one world view that I close myself off to other world views. Situations that present themselves, in a life lived fully, come randomly. Sometimes there will be a string of wonderful positive experiences and I will develop a kind of dependency on positive energy. Sometimes there will be a string of negative experiences and I will develop the habit of seeing and expecting the worst in human nature. In both situations I forget that ‘there are two sides’ and, thus, my writing and my world view become narrow and, by definition, one sided.

I resolved, not in the New Year’s way, to be more careful of getting into the ruts created by day to day experiences. I want to be open to seeing the big picture in small daily occurrences. I want to be able to take my experience as a man with a whack of adjectives (I am adjectively gifted) fat, gay, disabled … and see the whole of the experiences. I can see why people get mired in negativity, there’s a lot to be annoyed about, but I live in a world that is equally full of kindness and pleasures and warmth.

I don’t want snowed in curbs and blocked disabled seating and nasty comments from strangers on street corners to turn me sour on the experience of living fully and freely. I can’t let them jail me into expecting the worst and thus no longer being vulnerable to the effects of a stolen smile across the way from someone who didn’t need to but did anyways.

Two sides.

Remember because it matters.


Janelle said...

In honour of your blog, I will drive a different route to work today. Time to see what I've been missing. I'll also try to think what I've been missing when the one-sided world takes over.
Many Thanks,
Anon One from Yesterday
(very nice of you to take time to comment, I've decided to keep posting, but will just think a bit more first, something I could benefit from anyways).

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thanks for the reminder to keep open to new vistas and perspectives. I appreciate the way to have taken a happenstance and turned it into an adventure. I do like to snuggle into the familiar - but look at the adventures I could be missing!


Belinda said...

So good; so true. Thanks for the parable! :)

Andrea S. said...

Janelle / "Anon One"

Welcome back -- I'm glad you'll be sticking with the blog and sticking with participating in the comments forum

I think you caught flak yesterday in part because some of the things you said were very similar to things other people have said when they're coming from a more patrionizing angle. Non-disabled people do sometimes have a tendency to put us on a pedestal and praise us as being "brave" or "inspirational" not because we've actually done anything special but for simply going about our daily lives. Some disabled people have been called "brave" literally just for going to the grocery store!

Too often, we are praised not for doing anything extraordinarily outside of our actual capabilities but for doing things that OTHER people THINK somehow shouldn't be possible for us to do. In other words, we often end up receiving praise when all we've really done is to wake up in the morning and discover that our life just happens not to fit into someone else's stereotype of who they think we're supposed to be.

When you've been receiving a mix of genuine praise (ie, for things you've actually done above and beyond living your life) and "I'm putting you on a pedestal just because I had no idea people like you could do things like this" praise then you eventually become wary of, and wearied by, the latter kind of praise, not only when its directed at you but when its directed at others.

I don't think you meant your praise for your sister in the way I describe here. But it did come across in a similar kind of tone and vein as more patronizing varieties of praise that I have heard from others. And probably did also for Anon Two.

I'm NOT going into this as a way of criticizing. I've tried to present this explanation because I think you may have fallen into a piece of disability history you perhaps weren't aware of: things that are innocuous in one context can have a very different meaning in another context simply because it bears strong similarities to things that have a bad history behind them. Understanding a bit of the historical context I hope can help a little in understanding some of the reactions you may encounter.

coffeetalk said...

This post reminds me of the scene in "Dead Poet's Society" where Robin Williams encourages his students to stand on the desk to see the room from a different perspective. Sometimes a simple change can give us a whole new view of a situation. Thanks for the reminder. I think it's easy, when we are long-time staff working with adults affected by developmental disabilities, to forget to at least try to look at situations and/or behaviours from multiple perspectives. We get stuck in our ideas of who people are and what they do or don't do. We make mistakes sometimes when we are unwilling to change our perspective.

Kristin said...

That is a very important thing to remember.

Ettina said...

As an aspiring author, I've had to learn to see the other side, because I want to write about issues important to me, and I don't want to write a strawman. I often end up realizing there are no easy answers.