He had seen me, waved as I waved back, and then looked north and stepped off the curb. The traffic flow wasn't exactly heavy but it was steady. He was now in the middle of the road. Standing on the yellow line, looking south.
I saw a huge truck heading up the street.
I was sweating.
The truck passed, there was room for him to make it all the way across. He stepped on to the sidewalk beside me.
I felt like I could breathe again.
I joked about being freaked out when the truck came north. He laughed and said, "It was big, wasn't it?" We then chatted about what he was doing downtown. He told me he was doing some errands for his mom and, in fact, was heading down to the bus station to catch a bus to visit her where she lives in a small city about a mile north.
We shook hands goodbye, I told him how nice it had been to see him. He wished us well and was off.
Some of you might have guessed that the man I was speaking to has an intellectual disability. I worked with him many, many years ago and now occasionally run into him on the street. Back when I worked with him, he wasn't allowed to be in the community on his own for a whole variety of reasons. But, he's in the community now, alone, and doing fine.
My problem is that I still have a bit of 'them' and 'they' thinking. If any other of my non-disabled friends had crossed the street in the same way. I wouldn't have had any reaction other than, well, waiting. In fact I've crossed the street in similar ways in my power chair, I jay walk all the time. It's simply a city skill. Even though it's against the law, and even though it's more dangerous than crossing at a stop light, I do it and know I will continue to do it.
In just the way he did.
He did it as safely as it is possible to do.
He did it confidently as if he's done it a lot before.
Why did I immediately think about his decision and his safety in a different way than I would have ANY OTHER OF THE PEOPLE I KNOW without disabilities? Because of 'them' and 'they' thinking.
"People with disabilities, they should cross the road safely, following all the rules of the road."
"People like them may not recognize street hazards in the same way we do."
When I write those things down, they are ridiculous.
They don't seem ridiculous when I think them.
I'm proud of this: I kept my mouth shut. I treated him like I would have treated anyone else. He didn't need a lecture. He didn't need to be told he wasn't competent to do what he just did. He needed something from me.
And I gave it.