One stop south of where we got on the subway throngs of people got on board. The last person to get on was an attractive blind guy, maybe in his early forties. He took a couple steps in, tried to find something to hold on to, couldn't, then turned towards the door he'd come in, planted his feet and prepared for the movement of the car. He'd done this before. Over the next couple of stops he became an island unto himself as people simply backed away from him. I don't think that there was any 'fear of contagion' going on, I think people were simply wanting to give him space.
I was parked in the assigned space for people with disabilities. There are three seats that flip up to create that space and when I boarded, a group of teen boys, very politely and very quickly and without being asked hopped up and made the spot available to me. When we were about to arrive at our station, I said to my fellow disabled passenger, "I'm parked in the accessible seating, I am getting off at the next stop. These seats will then be available if you'd like to use them."
He smiled and said, "Thanks, I'll do that."
I got off and as the subway train pulled past us, I saw him sitting where I had been only moments ago. It was a small and insignificant interchange. But I noted, in his voice, in those few words, both appreciation for the information and for the contact. I know that there can be a sense of weariness of being the only one, the only different one, in a public place. I know how much a simple, kindly, interaction can change the sense of a moment.
It again surprises me, how simple kindness has such powerful after effects. I saw his smile, I heard the warmth in his voice as he responded, I saw him relax a bit more into the environment. The effect on me was equally remarkable. I realized, in those few words, that I was just as appreciative of the moment of connection. He is of 'my' community. His presence on board that subway car, with his different difference, changed my experience of the ride. I was less alone.
I hope that the contact we had, him in his island of space, me duely parked out of the way, changed his experience too. I hope he felt what I felt, community. Finding community in the community can be a rare thing.
Little moments matter, I remember thinking as I drove away. The rest of the day I was the only person with a visible disability in, let's see, the restaurant, the movie theatre, on the subway on the ride home. I was never alone in any of those times, I was always either with Joe or with friends. I never felt alone at any moment during that day. Yet that moment of connection with another 'other' stands out in my mind.
I'm not sure why.