We were out on snowy sidewalks yesterday. In many places, because snow had not been adequately cleared, there was only enough room for a couple of people, or one large wheelchair, to get through.
I have a right to space.
As we were out with Ruby and Sadie, we formed a line up, first me, then Sadie, then Ruby, then Joe. As always, with the girls, this turned into a game and our laughter cracked the silence, made brittle by people's frustrations with getting around. When we finally made the intersection that would take us over to the subway, we all gathered again, more naturally, as a group.
A older gentleman, who had been in a rush, had earlier made a big deal about getting around me as I made it through one of the more narrow passage ways. For the most part people could see the space and could see the chair so were patient (some obviously so and wanting credit) and we made our way easily.
He did not. He passed, looked at me, grunted words I could not hear but his tone was easily understood. I glanced back and, smiled, it was the only thing in my arsenal as it's hard to think about comebacks when driving a power wheelchair through crowds while rolling on snow and slush.
For all his rush he arrived at the corner only seconds before we did. We waited for the light, Sadie said, "Dave, can I hold on to your wheelchair when we cross the street?" I think she was anticipating that we'd ask her to hold hands and wanted to pre-empt the request. She's wanting to show, more and more, that she'd growing up. I told her she could.
She place her hand on my arm, which was resting on the armrest, and waiting.
Her touch was magic.
The older guy saw this, with shock, and looked at me again. Now I wasn't some random guy in a wheelchair out to cause traffic flow problems on the sidewalk, now I was in relationship, somehow, to this child. His face, constantly angry since the brief exchange only a few minutes ago, softened. "What a lovely child," he said. "She is," I said. Sadie beamed.
Ruby and Sadie, both, have the magic touch. Joe doesn't have it. Nor do any of our friends who are adults and out with me. I think it's because people think that those who are with me are paid to be there. I think they think that those relationships, friends, partners, cannot exist for me - money must be paid for people to walk with, be with him. That relationship, which counters the stereotype of people with disabilities living lonely, sad, lives is dismissed by simply applying another bit of bias: my tax dollars pay for people to be with the fat guy in the wheelchair! So, even though my relationships are based on affection not finance, they are brushed away.
The touch of a child is very different. It's a declarative touch. It's a touch which announces, "This guy is someone I am safe with, this guy is someone I can trust, this guy makes me laugh, this guy is someone who belongs to me." It's a touch that can't be dismissed.
It's a touch that can't be dismissed.
It's a touch whose magic is alchemical, taking a word, surgically changed by difference and reattaching what was removed, like Peter Pan to his shadow, I become just another person out with family in the winter. While "other" makes me less than, becoming just "another," makes me equal to. And that's what Sadie did, her hand touched my arm, and suddenly I simply became another person waiting for the light.
She crossed in safety.
I crossed, for the moment, allowed the space I needed.