Here's what happened:
We were leaving the AMC theatre after having seen Anonymous. There were crowds milling about because there was a group of people who were promoting a new independent Canadian Film about diversity, difference and disability: "An Insignificant Harvey". I had stopped to chat with them about the film and was just leaving when a huge commotion broke out behind me. A man, with a big white busy beard riding in a power chair, was coming out of the door to the building and a pregnant woman and her husband stepped in front of him. He pulled up short. Then he lost control, started swearing at them, telling her that he almost slammed into her, that he could have broken her legs, that she should pay attention to where she was walking. Her boyfriend yelled at him to shut up which resulted in him screaming profanities at the two passersby. People were turning and staring, at him, at the commotion, all looking delighted that they'd have a story to tell when they got home.
Here was my first response:
I was a tad outraged and, dare I say it, even embarrassed by the behaviour of the disabled guy. I thought he was rude and out of control. Shouting obscenities, on a city street, at passersby seemed, in my mind, to reflect badly on us disabled folks. When people looked from him to me, I did what I could to repair the damage to the reputation of disabled power chair users. I even looked at them, the non-disabled gawkers, when our eyes met, with a kind of conspiratorial 'what's up with him' look. As we headed on our way home, I could hear him for nearly half a block, threatening, 'next time I'll just run straight into you'. I tut tutted his lack of control and thought he was letting down the side.
Here's what happened next:
"Excuse me." "Thanks."
"Could you let me pass please?" "Thanks."
"Sorry but I need to get by." "Thanks."
Twice I was nearly trampled by people texting and walking, both times I apologized for being on the road in their way.
Several times, I had to adjust where I was to accommodate others. Several times more, I saw people coming and anticipated their space needs and adjusted for it. Not once did someone say 'thanks'. Not once did someone ask me in a mannerly manner to let them pass. Not once. I found myself, finally, when nearly home and nearly trampled by a woman who shouted at me to 'watch where I was going' when she looked up from her cell phone and was startled by finding me there, inwardly swearing at her. I found myself, cussing her out, cussing out the others - silently in my mind - who had presumed that this public space was theirs and theirs alone. The assumption that me and mine need to grovel for space to pass, to be thankful when they step aside, to make it my job to be constantly in anticipation of their needs, simply pisses me off.
Here's what I thought then:
That older guy, coming out of the building, looked, unlike me, as if he had been born with his disability. That means that he's spent nearly 60 or so years being 'othered' by others, being in the position of asking, lurching himself to a stop to accommodate those who can't be bothered to see him. That means that he's spent a lifetime alternating between being too visible and being completely invisible. That means that he's shouted, a lot, in his head at those who presume ownership of public space. I wonder if he just got tired of constantly monitoring himself, constantly being in control. I wonder, if when he pulled up short, protecting the woman who stepped in his path, and was lurched forward, that something broke inside of him. If he needed, that once, to let all the anger and frustration out. I wondered.
Here's what happened next:
We got to the apartment building. I had bags on the back of my chair, Joe was pulling the grocery cart. As I got to the door, I saw the young security guard, get up and come out to help us both with the doors. He is a wonderful guy, generous in spirit, and we both thanked him for helping us out. He said, with a smile, that he didn't mind at all. He then said, nervously, that no one else ever thanks him for helping out, that he appreciated our thanks.
Here's what I did next:
I hoped, deep down inside, that the man with the bushy beard, meet with kindness a time or two more in his day. Not the smothering 'othering' kindness that insults rather than helps, but the real, genuine, kindness that people have the capacity to offer. I hoped, deep down inside where prayer lives, that he has somewhere to off load his anger and upload his patience. I hoped, even deeper down inside, that I manage always to manage my anger and that it never become too big a burden to carry. In those moments, deep inside, I understood him as I should have from the start - not as 'other' but as brother.