Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Future In Black



Image Description: The word 'Future' printed in black on a white backgroun with sad faces in each of the two 'u's in the word.
"I feel bad for you."

Her tone chilled me and I shivered as if someone had walked over my grave. I was at the counter, taking stuff out of my bag to be scanned and totalled, and suddenly the woman says, "I feel bad for you." There was no context for this.

No context.

Absolutely no context.

Nothing had gone wrong. I hadn't dropped anything. I hadn't bumped anything over. I hadn't run over someone. I hadn't broke something. I hadn't got confused and bewildered.

There was no context.

"I feel bad for you."

She said it sorrowfully as she slowly scanned my stuff.

"Don't feel bad for me, there's no reason to." I said.

"Thank you for saying that, but I feel bad for you." she said, completely ignoring what I said.

I'd finished getting things out of the bag and she looked up and asked, "Are you having a good day? Can you have a good day??"

"I am and I can," I said.

Sad smile.

You will notice I said nothing to her, I just mildly responded to her indicating that her sorrow was unnecessary and that it was possible for me to have a, shock, good day.

I don't know why I didn't.

There was such deep sorrow in what she said to me.

It filled the air.

Her eyes were too the brim full of tears.

She was unreachable.

She looked to me from the bottom of that deep pool of pity and saw, not me, but the 'disability' trope that stored there.

She could not hear me.

She could not see me.

I realized, too late, that the context was my disability - and my disability alone. It didn't need amplification by a dropped product or a broken glass or a shin collision. It didn't need magnification because it was already so huge that she couldn't see past it.

"I feel bad for you."

How many people really feel that way? That sorrow at the sight of us, that sadness at our mere presence in their world?

It is in small moments like these I realize what dangerous time we live in. When others will want to determine our worth and our place in the world. When others will will us gone. When others will see suffering where none exists. When others are incapable of hearing our voices simply because the thinking has already been done, the decision already made.

I am a disabled man.

I fear the future.

5 comments:

AnyBeth said...

"I'm sorry that you're so caught up in the idea of my disability that you cannot see me as a person." File under "things I'd wish I'd said if I were you". I probably would have sat there in puzzlement, perhaps gotten caught up in worse discussion if I'd asked why.

Sigh. There's an idea that's afaik pretty common in philosophy of disability that holds that the views of actual people with disabilities don't count. Having a clue what you're talking about is apparently a conflict of interests or some such. Could get back to that after talking again to a blind philosophy post-grad friend...

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Or something cheerful like, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but for your children." And when she looks puzzled say, "You'll be old or disabled some day; you might as well start thinking ahead." And then add kindly, "It's not so bad."

Aaargh!

Or the well-worn, "I beg you pardon!" with a frosty air.

I wish I had been there; it would be a pleasure to meet you in person.

wheeliecrone said...

I have always believed that the main reasons for the bizarre way that some non-disabled people see us and behave toward us are fear and ignorance.

Fear that they might some day join the ranks of people with disability. Ignorance about the lives of people with disability.

I also believe that the sight of us, just living our lives, doing what we do - in time, will chip away at that fear and reduce the ignorance.

Believing that helps me when some non-disabled person stares rudely or says something wildly inappropriate or wants to "heal" me.

The more that I travel around, just living my life, the more that non-disabled people will get used to the fact that people with disabilities can have a life. Because I intend to keep on having a life, no matter what anyone else thinks about it. I will have a life as long as I can.

That's my plan, and I'm sticking to it.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

I am just mind boggled at someone who is so convinced of the tragedy of your life (because, gosh, it must be so tragic to be alive while being disabled!) that she actually has to ask if you're able to have a good day.

Not particularly surprised. But still mind boggled.

h smith said...

With a reaction like that its possible that lady had had her life touched by disability in a tragic way. A grief filled 'medical' abortion, a lost baby/sibling, a parent destroyed after an accident or illness, a lover whos life support was turned off because drs said theyd have no chance of ever having a good day,etc etc. Disability is not always 'not tragic' sadly and sometimes its not ignorance but personal pain that makes people behave inappropriately to us. Not that that makes it any less horrible to be on the receiving end of, but extreme reactions usually have painful stories behind them..