We were off to get our hair cut. I was paying close attention to where I was going because the place where we get our hair cut has temporarily been relocated because of construction. I'm not as familiar with this new pathway. I saw her ahead of me, chatting and laughing with a friend. She was pushing a walker, she had purchases in the basket in front of her. Nothing remarkable, just a woman out having a lovely afternoon.
It all changed.
Like when the sun goes behind a cloud.
"OH MY GOD!!! OH MY GOD!!" a woman's voice shouted. "I WAS JUST THINKING ABOUT YOU YESTERDAY!!!" This was a woman who spoke, I'm guessing, primarily in capital letters. The woman with the walker smiled to her in greeting but before she could speak, the loud voice continued, "WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?? WHEN DID YOU START USING A WALKER?? OH MY GOD! I'M SO SORRY TO SEE YOU LIKE THIS. WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT HAPPENED?"
The woman with the walker took a breath and instead of answering, introduced the friend she was with and tried to divert the conversation to the lovely day, the shopping, the pleasure at running into someone she hadn't seen in a while. But the voice was having none of it ...
"WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?? OH MY GOD!!! I'M SO SORRY. IT MUST BE SO AWFUL! WILL YOU GET BETTER??"
I was further past now so I couldn't hear the response from the woman in her walker, but it didn't please the voice.
"YOU MUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED? WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS? OH MY GOD IT MUST BE SO AWFUL!!"
She had been out shopping with a friend on a lovely fall afternoon in Toronto. She had been laughing and joking. It clearly wasn't awful. Whatever happened had happened and she was simply going on and living her life well and fully. She had been having fun. FUN.
I was so angered by what had happened. No wonder people who are recently disabled have such a tough time with disability - not because of the reality of the disability, although that takes getting used to without a doubt, but because of the voices, voices, voices of people throwing pity and sorrow and sadness onto a situation. How do you dig yourself out of a tough situation if people keep dumping their own shit into the hole?
Just as I finished getting my hair done I noticed the woman with the walker and her friend come into the hair salon, the one where my barber has been relocated, and speak to the fellow at the desk. He greeted her warmly, told her she looked lovely, which she did, and invited her to head on in to her stylist.
I could see her working. Not to walk. Not to use her walker which is was clearly not quite expert at yet. But working to get back to where she was, in Toronto, out shopping and getting her hair done, with a friend and having fun. Working to push away the voice that told her that her life was over, doomed to tragedy and reminding her that something had happened, that changed her. Working to just be, be disabled, and active, and vital. Working to remember that she was capable of having fun, and being with friends and living life - just as she was, just as who she was now.
Sometimes people need to realize that the best gift they can give another person is to simply shut the fuck up.