Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Meeting Big Brother's Sister

I was waiting just at the door to the shop for Joe. He was paying at the till, which though it was marked with the Wheelchair Accessible symbol, was no different than any of the other tills and therefore was to narrow for me to pass through. I made comment, of course, and then went to the front door. The sun was streaming through the windows and even with the air conditioning, I felt it's warmth. I didn't snooze but I was in that comfortable warm, comfy, and pensive state that you get when you have time on your hands but nothing to do.

A hand touched my shoulder and I startled out of my near, but not quite, little nap. I looked up into a friendly face. A woman, smiling, said, "I just wanted to compliment you." I tense up. Disabled people worldwide know the sensation of being inspirational, worthy of compliment, for the most minor of accomplishment. "Thank you, you are right, I do back my chair up really, really well." I waited to hear her finish.

"I noticed," she said, "that you pushed yourself around the whole store without any help at all. At your size, I imagine that's quite a task, and it's good to see you trying so hard, keep at it, you'll achieve your goals if you do." I was stunned. I'm not sure what goal she was referring to, though I can guess, but what bothered me was the sudden realization, again because I've had it many times before, about the sheer visibility of my life.

I go about as if I'm just going about, but because of my double difference, I'm always on display, always becoming part of someone else's story about their day. "Do you know what I saw at the store today ..."

I'm an object lesson. What that lesson is, I don't know, good or bad, inspirational or not, but a lesson I shall be. I'm always a 'what I saw' never a 'who |I saw,' I go about my business just doing things, like we all do, but those things get transmuted from ordinary to extraordinary because of my touch.

"You were watching me?" I asked, a bit coldly.

"No, no, not intentional, I just noticed, and I wanted you to know how pleased I was to see you working so hard," she answered, smiling.

"So, you were watching me?" I said again, pushing my wheelchair away from her.

She got flustered.

"Not watching watching,"

"I'm sorry, you are making me very uncomfortable, could you please leave me alone," I said, quietly but firmly.

She left.

Yes, I wanted to make her uncomfortable.

Because watching someone go about their business is weird.

Isn't it?

7 comments:

Frank_V said...

I've encountered "compliments" like you did that day, and just now, I've made up my mind on how I will respond. My standard answer from now on will be: "Thanks for thinking I'm so awesome, it IS hard for me to do this. BUT, the sad truth is, you think I'm awesome, because so many able-bodied people are just plain lazy by comparison."

Unknown said...

It's the feeling that it was all right to approach you - and touch you - to share her opinion of you - that is just wrong....
yes, we all notice other people as we move about in the world...unless we are completely self absorbed....but the way it all works is that we adhere to the rule of not noticing too much...not staring..and keeping a neutral expression and a closed mouth...

it's the idea of respecting the other person's 'personal space'....that's what she didn't get!

it's a boundary issue...again.....sigh.
Clairesmum

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

You should have told her, "We call that inspiration porn. When doing something completely normal, we inspire other people. We disabled people hate that."

I hope you complained about the lane not being wide enough, too.

I'm trying to become more of an activist, and point out problems that normal people don't see. Because I know most people won't. It's hard work. But I can do it.

ssassefras said...

There's a power thing here. It's an ego stroke to be in the position of giving others feedback. To pass judgment on others, positively or negatively, affirms that you are in the position to give judgement, that your opinion is relevant, and that the other person should listen to you. It affirms that this other person with their own agenda and plans should stop and listen to you.

That was for her sake, not yours.

Christy Baker said...

Hi David, I might not be the norm here, but perhaps this might be one of those times to reflect, like you so often do. You said once that you always think about what people say to you. May I offer this? Perhaps this lady was once overweight, or even had a temporary mobility issue after a medical crisis. What if her words were meant to you as encouragement as opposed to judgment? What if her intention was to wish you well and offer kindness? This as opposed to so many of the examples you have shared in which you have endured cruel, thoughtless comments. I'm overweight, and not just moderately. I make it a practice to welcome warm wishes and thoughts when I can, because there is more than enough mean spirited people around to make my life complete. Her smile tells me she meant you no ill will. Perhaps you passed up a great opportunity for dialogue, which surprises me. We have met, and I can't imagine you overlooking the fact that perhaps what she meant to express, was kindness. :)

L said...

There's a power thing here. It's an ego stroke to be in the position of giving others feedback. To pass judgment on others, positively or negatively, affirms that you are in the position to give judgement, that your opinion is relevant, and that the other person should listen to you. It affirms that this other person with their own agenda and plans should stop and listen to you.

That was for her sake, not yours.


I agree with this comment.

And touching an adult without permission when there's no emergency is just NOT ON.

If she wouldn't come up and touch a strange man who wasn't using a wheelchair, then she shouldn't have touched you without asking, either.

Mary Nau said...

I think it's called "condescending" or"patronizing." It's the kindness of someone who (in her own mind) seeks to tap her wand of specialness upon the lesser beings, and then is stunned when she is not seen as a goddess of goodness. "Good boy! You're so heavy and isn't it nice you're moving like a big boy like you should!" I can't imagine why you're not all smiles, Dave.