He stopped and chatted with us as we arrived home from work. I was in my wheelchair waiting for Joe to get the foot rests, and he was just heading out. I don't know how to 'be' in conversation with him. So, I'm "friendly cool". I don't mean friendly in a cool way, but friendly in a frosty way.
You see for several years when we ran into this fellow on the elevator or in the lobby, he'd chat with Joe and ignore me. This happens. I tried to enter into a few brief neighbourly conversations over that time and was firmly shut out. Even when Joe tried, as he did, to involve me, it didn't happen.
Then something happened. I was in the lobby, as it was winter, waiting for the bus in the morning. The elevator door opened and he came out. He greeted Joe, who was sitting on the couch beside me, ignoring me completely. I had stopped saying hello to him as he never, ever returned on. I thought I couldn't become uninvisible and I'd stopped trying.
That morning he asked Joe what we were doing there so early, Joe answered, "Waiting for the bus to take Dave to work." That one sentence change everything. He turned to me, which I was unprepared for, and said, "What do you do for work?" I was so startled to be asked I answered, something like, "I'm the Director of clinical services for a large service organization."
His face showed shock. "I thought you were on benefits," he said.
I said, "No, I've never been on benefits of any kind."
Then he started talking to me. Then I started practising my "friendly cool like frosty" way. I really didn't want to engage him. I thought about it and I didn't want to have a confrontation with him either. Maybe I should but we live in the same building. There are already people hostile to wheelchair users here, I want my home to be a stress free as possible. I don't need to be everyone's educator.
Here's the issue for me. As soon as he knew about my work, his sense of my social value changed. I was now worthy of his attention. I've always been very wary of the idea that social role should have any impact on value at all. Aren't people simply valuable because they are people? Do we really think that a human being becomes more and more valuable as they get promotion after promotion at work? My father worked as a miner. He worked hard. He worked underground. When he shook your hand it would feel like you were touching the rock he mined. Hard, strong, hands. If your father was a doctor, would your father be more valuable, as a person, than mine? I know that they would get differing amounts of pay and differing amounts of social respect ... but I'm not talking about that ... I'm talking about value as a human being.
Buying into the idea that social role has a place in determining the value of a person is dangerous. It leads to, quite literally, death. Murdering this child is a travesty, murdering that child is charity. Assisted suicide for this person, suicide prevention work for that one.
Every time he talks to me, this man who now sees me as a fully human and fully equal person - he reminds me that others who would value the value of others are, perhaps, the most dangerous people to me, and I pray God they never, again, have power.