I went to see the French movie Intouchables yesterday and was wildly excited about seeing it. I'd heard good things about the film and knew of it's success in Europe. I also knew that it was based on a true story and that it had a lead character (if not actor) with a disability. Beyond that, I'd kept myself ignorant about the film. I wanted to go in without expectations or knowledge about what I was going to see. I'm the guy who only reads the first couple of lines on the back of a book - I like being surprised.
I'm sure that everyone who went to the film knew that it was a film, at least marginally, about disability. That much you can't miss. So I motored into the theatre and was backing into the disabled space when I saw that the woman directly behind that space had her sneakers up on the bar behind the space. I figured, naturally, that she'd put her feet down as I approached. She didn't. Her feet were only inches above my head. I felt really, really uncomfortable.
I checked and saw that the disabled seating on the other side of the theatre was free. I pulled out of the space, stopped to look back at her, saw her watching me drive away, her feet firmly in place. I wheeled over, which meant going to the front of the theatre rolling across under the screen and then coming back up the aisle and turning around and getting into the new space. All with her eyes on me.
My heart was beating quickly in my chest. I wanted a confrontation and yet I didn't want a confrontation. When Joe came in with the pop, I told him what happened. He advised me to take a breath and calm down. I did as he asked. Throughout the film people laughed, and laughed and laughed at various scenes in the movie. The movie was entertaining, on many levels, but challenging on few.
We left the theatre and I struggled to answer two questions:
1) Why didn't I ask her to put her feet down?
I felt belittled and devalued by her, without question. Having dirty sneakers right above my head made me feel beneath her consideration as a person deserving of respect and dignity. Even with the energy that anger gave me, I didn't have enough ... what? Fury, well, no, I had enough of that. Hope, maybe that was it, I didn't have any hope that a woman in her fifties could be educated. If I had to ask her to put her feet down, the ones just above my head, then it was pointless. Who doesn't know that? She and her husband seemed perfectly fine with the soles of her feet dirtying my soul. I had a weariness that I'm noticing more and more these days. A 'I just don't want to' feeling that creeps into dealing with creeps. So, I took my hopelessness and moved over to another seat.
2) What bothered me so much about what happened?
I think that I was bothered by the dismissal of any possible value I may have as a fellow human being. It was like I was below her notice, below her need to consider, below her feet ... that's it, like I was simply the dirt beneath her feet. It's such a common experience as a person with a disability. To be below notice ... in a line up when the clerk ignores me to take the order from the person behind ... in a restaurant when the waiter asks Joe what I'll have ... in meetings where there is never a place to sit - without bother. Only this time it was just so much clearer. I don't want special treatment or special consideration, I just want to be treated with consideration. But to be considered, I have to exist as a person, as a human being, as a fellow citizen.
Do any of the rest of you, fellow disabled folk, or parents, spouses and families of disabled folk, activists with and without disabilities ... do any of you ever feel like just giving up? Giving in to silence and accepting less than the best? Because sometimes, dear readers, I do.