Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Visitor

My father, right now, is receiving fairly significant care in a hospital in British Columbia. I went there to visit him and see how he was doing. For a 93 year old man he shows a strength of will that goes well with his strength of character. He is a kind, soft spoken man. People like him.

It's odd that what I admire about my Dad is also what worries me a little bit about him. There are times, as we all know, when being a nice person also requires being a strong self advocate. Given my Dad's age and temperament, would he be able to do that? So when I was visiting in the hospital I could tell that the nurses and doctors liked him and responded to him with kindness but I was also aware that they were aware that we, the family, were there and watching the interactions. I found myself watching their moods, watching the way they expressed themselves, watching how natural the interactions seemed.

I am not naturally untrusting but I'm also aware that systems are systems and that people who receive service within a system can cease to be anything remotely human. I don't want that to happen to my dad. I found no evidence of anything to be concerned about. Even at a distance, over the phone, speaking with nurses and doctors, I heard deep caring in their voice.

Situations like this remind me of the support that I provide to people with disabilities, would it withstand my own scrutiny of those who serve my father? Would my moods drive my behaviour or would my professionalism refuse temper to rule my words or actions? Would I speak with kindness or would I speak with patience, those are very different things, I wish people would realize that.

Kindness is different from patience and one doesn't guarantee the other.

Do I understand that well enough? I certainly did when watching those who came into contact with my Dad when I was visiting. I was pleased when a nurse came in to tell him about a procedure that needed doing that Dad stopped her and questioned her about what was going to happen and why it needed to be done.

My Dad didn't need me at all. He's got this. He in his own quiet way managed to communicate who was in control and who was making decisions and who had the right to question actions taken.

I think of this every time I call the hospital as I listen carefully to the tone of voice of the nurses I speak to ... do they know I listen for anger or impatience or frustration? I don't know. But if I miss it, I know my Dad won't.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Waiting

Waiting is never fun.

We left Vancouver well over an hour late because the plane had a slight mechanical problem which needed fixing before take off. So it was dark when we landed, Joe needed to wait for a shuttle to take him to the car, the shuttle wasn't accessible so I had to wait in a different spot not knowing when he'd be arriving. I wasn't in a bad mood, but I was tired. My face, at rest, looks angry. My face when I'm tired makes me look very severe. I know that. People leave me alone as a result. I'm got with that.

So, I was surprised to be spoken to.

A girl of maybe 12 or 13 was standing beside me looking at me intently. She was with her mother, who like me, was watching an unending flow of cars for one she recognized. I looked over to her, not quite hearing what she said, "Pardon me?" I asked.

"It's not OK you know," she said.

I didn't know what she was talking about. "I'm sorry, what's not OK?" She paused, took a breath and said, "The way people stare at you, it's not OK." I was flabbergasted. Partly because I hadn't been noticing others noticing me, I was just looking for our car in the long line up of cars coming to the pick up area of the airport. I looked around and did notice the occasional stare or two. I didn't know what to say to her.

"People sometimes stare and me and my mom, and it's not OK." She was quietly adamant. She and her mother were both people of colour and I could imagine exactly what she was talking about. I was sorry that she had had the experience of 'othering' that comes with being stared at.

I measured my words. My first response had been, "I'm used to it," but that had been when she first spoke. I was not going to say to a child that hurtful behaviour becomes the norm and that one grows accustomed to it. I simply wasn't going to say it. I couldn't.

So, I just said, "Yes, it's wrong. People know better." She nodded her head, "Good, so you know," she said.

I nodded my head and we both fell back into waiting.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Alienization

Joe and I did something that we never thought we'd do yesterday. We went shopping for a basketball. There are hoops outside the front of our house that are there for community use and we thought that maybe the girls would like to use them, therefore, the ball. We went into a store that sold them and faced a wall, a mighty wall, of basketballs. The first ones we picked up cost a fortune, I didn't know what to expect price wise but wow.

Finally we found a ball that was inside our price range and just as we picked it up a clerk came over to help. He spoke to Joe asking if he could help. Joe shook his head, we'd made the decision after all, and I spoke up. "We want this ball just to shoot hoops out the front of our place, is this the kind of ball that does that?" He looked at me oddly and I said, "Well there are so many balls here of so many prices, I wanted to know if this one had the 'neighbourhood hoops' feature." 

He nodded and said,"YOU want a basketball?"

I looked at him, he was young. I don't expect that kind of stuff from someone so young. He looked like he was in high school. Don't disabled kids go to high school, don't they play ball?" I don't know the answer to that question in his case. But even if they didn't isn't he aware, even slightly, of wheelchair sports. But maybe he didn't mean the wheelchair, maybe he meant my weight. I don't know but even if he did, why wouldn't a fat person want to throw a ball, is he thinking that it would get in the way of eating a cake or something. Any fat person knows that there is virtually nothing that can't be done while eating a snack. Shit.

"YOU want a basketball?"

It's another instance where I became 'alienized' by someone. Made so different from humanity that any hint of humanity is shocking. But there I was being fully human in front of him and there he was looking like he would have a story to tell that no one would ever believe.

Yeah, I want a basketball, how freaking freaky is that?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Again and Again (A Pride Day Post)

Image result for rainbow flag in a fist
Image description: a graphic design of a fist with the fingers being different colours of the rainbow. (I don't know who owns this art, if it's use here is unacceptable, please let me know and I will take it down.)


I met a man

At a dinner party.

Who got very quiet

When I answered his question.

What do you do for a living? he asked.

I told him, with pride, what I did

"I am a behaviour therapist," I said.

"Oh," was all he said

before he left the table.

The host got up

and followed his friend

out of the room.

He came back and asked

"What did you say to him?"

I told him about

our brief conversation.

"Oh, no!" he said,

"Oh, no!"

His friend

had been

involuntarily

admitted

to a

psychiatric

facility

for

behavioural

conversion

therapy.

It involved

using

shocks

for

punishment

at

any

sign

of

arousal

to

pictures

of

men.

They

put

a

gauge

around

his

penis

and

showed

him

male

images

and

shocked

him

and

shocked

him

and

shocked

him

if his body

responded.

Again

and again

they

burned

his

flesh.

He was left

scarred

body

and

mind

by

people who do

what I do.

That I wouldn't

didn't matter.

All that mattered

was that

someone had.

He left

the party.

The seat

beside

me

stayed

vacant.

I sat

silenced

unit it was time

to go.

That

man

one

day,

when I

ran

into him

at a

parade,

told

me

it

took

years

but

that

pride

had

begun

to

heal

his

wounds.

But,

he told me,

sometimes

when

he

makes

love

to

his

husband,

he

can

smell

the

light

scent

of

the

flesh

on

his

arm

being

burnt

by

one

shock

after

another.

I wouldn't ever

do that.

But it's been

done.

And

ultimately

that's

all that

matters.

Take

warning

those

who

wield

and

misuse

power.

Pride

will,

one day,

bring

you

down.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Late Flight Miracle

We boarded the plane, got in our seats, and watched take off time come and go. Every 10 or 15 minutes there would be an announcement that the flight would take off in 10 or 15 minutes. About an hour and 20 minutes later, they announced that the "small mechanical problem" was fixed and the paperwork just needed to be signed off. Finally, we were in the air.

Joe and I were lucky because we were flying home and Toronto was where we got off. Many, many, other people on the plane weren't so lucky, they were flying through Toronto and needed to make connections. The length of delay meant that there would be tight connections at best and missed at worst.

I never watch television or movies on the plane, I have a book and that's movie enough for me. What I watch is the map that's provided as one of the video options. All it does is show the progress of the flight and give information as to arrival time and altitude and temperature outside but the best thing is watching the little plane slowly make it's way across the screen following a flight path marked out by a green line.

As the plane got closer, the atmosphere on the plane grew tense. Around me people who had been watching movies flipped over to the map as well. We all watched the approach to Toronto and the time passing. Whispered conversations were being held by couples and by parents and children. There was a sigh of relief when the plane touched down.

About five minutes before landing, there was a passenger announcement. We were told the gate we were arriving at and the gates of soon to be departing flights to varying places, all of which were destinations for those who had connecting flights. Pens quickly wrote down the gate numbers and a diversity of Gods began to hear fervent prayers.

As we pulled to the gate, there came another announcement. this one was quite solemn in tone. Everyone picked up on the seriousness in the tone of voice. It asked for those passengers for whom Toronto was their final destination to please stay on the plane for a few minutes and leave the aisles free for those who had connections. It was explained to us that the pilot had made up some of the lost time in flight and that if we gave people the opportunity almost all of the passengers with connections would make their flights.

I could hear in the voice a tiredness. I understood this. I've been on planes before when this request was made and virtually no one complied. People got off in the same way that they always do, as soon as they could. I am used to waiting to get off a plane and I'm always surprised at how quickly it empties. It's not a long wait. It's a small thing to do.

Some passengers were so anxious to get off that they were getting up and getting luggage as we were pulling into the gate. They were told firmly to sit down until the plane stopped moving. Their anxiety was understandable. Seconds before the door opened the appeal was made again, if we were getting off in Toronto, wait just a few minutes for those travelling on.

And people did. I turned to see the aisle full of people running, actually running, down it towards the door and people standing, waiting, some calling out "Good Luck!" to their fellow passengers who  zipped past them. I'd never seen this before. I'd never seen a whole plane, filled to the brim, let those who needed fast exit have fast exit.

Just a moment of time.

Just an exercise of patience.

And a touch of restraint.

Can communicate who we are in powerful ways.

We, collectively, had the opportunity to allow people to move on in their journeys, to make it home to spouses and kids, to make up lost time. We, collectively, could demonstrate the power of valuing another's time and another's needs.And, we did.

It's a small moment but it will be a big memory.

As we always get off last, I saw the Toronto bound passengers faces as they disembarked. Everyone was surprised by everyone else, everyone seemed surprised that this had happened and that they were part of it. We are all now going to be part of everyone else's story.

And it's a good story.

Friday, June 23, 2017

2X 3 Things

Three things:

1) Ignorance is not bliss

2) Ignorance is never an excuse.

3) Ignorance is almost never the problem.

Recently there was an incident in Canada, that I will not link to, where a woman went on a racist rant at a walk in clinic wanting a white doctor who spoke English. Thankfully there were people there that stood up to her, which always gives me hope, but the video of the event and her outburst was everywhere for a while. I was appalled at the time but became even more so when I heard the discussion about her behaviour.

The general consensus was that she was "ignorant." People talked about her as if she was in desperate need of some kind of sensitivity training or diversity training or anger management training.

Because, of course, white people aren't ever racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or ableist, or disphobic, or prejudiced in any way. We are just a little misguided. We just need a glass of juice, a cookie, and a 20 minute class and we're back to being good, well behaved white folk. "Poor dear," we seem to say as we acknowledge that what she did was racist and then we explain that while her behaviour might be considered racist, she certainly isn't, "she's just ignorant and needs some in class time with a teacher and a power point presentation."

I'm tired of ignorance getting the blame for blatant prejudice and bigotry.

Call a bigot a bigot.

Call our prejudice where prejudice exists.

Explaining way someone's behaviour brings into question your own behaviour. Why do you have a need for this to be 'ignorance' and 'poor dear' behaviour?

Remember when teens were coming to the gay area of Toronto and throwing slushies into the faces of people they tagged as members of the lgbtq+ community? The result of all the television discussion was that these teens need training.

No one needs training to know that you don't throw slushies into the face of strangers.

No.

One.

It was blatant prejudice and those teens were wilfully and purposely homophobic.

That woman was wilfully and purposely racist.

Get it.

GET IT?

Accountability begins with naming the problem. It is entirely possible that a woman who yells and complains in a racist manner is simply and maybe even irredeemably racist. It is entirely possible that she believed that everyone else felt like her but was afraid to say it. It is entirely possible that she meant ever racist thing that she said. And if it's possible then that possibility needs to be discussed. We need to own racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and ableism and disphobia and all the other forms of prejudice, we need to recognize that these exist independently from ignorance or a need for training. That these things are even resistant to cookies and classes.

She was racist therefore she is racist. Isn't that an easy step.

Isn't then the question how do we deal with racism or how do we prevent racism or how do we support her victims? Yes, she had victims. Not one word has been said about the impact of her words on the doctors and nurses who were there, on the people of colour all over the country who watched that video, the kids of the people of colour who asked their parents questions about what happened.

That racist woman hurt people and that's not okay and what needs to happen next? For her, for her victims, what needs to happen next?

Three points:

1) racism is a deeply embedded attitude it is not ignorance

2) bigotry needs to be called out for what it is

3) giving excuses to prejudice reveals even deeper prejudice

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fog Rukkers

Related image
Image description: A coffee hut, made of barn board and a bit of paint sits on the beach in Campbell River with a mixed bunch of tables and chairs.

I spotted Fog Rukkers coffee shop on our first drive through Campbell River on the way to see my father in the hospital. I made a mental note of it wanting to go in for a cup of tea and hopefully to sit at the ocean side of the hut and wonder at the view. But then, we got busy. With family visits and gallons of tea consumed all over town with various branches of the Hingsburger or Jobes families (Joe and I met in high school here so both families are here) we just never got there.

On our last full day in CR I told Joe that I really wanted to make it there if we could. We got in touch with Shannon, our niece and she was more than game to go with us. Was it wheelchair accessible? Didn't know. Were we going to make it wheelchair accessible if it wasn't? If we could, we would. We pulled up and took a good look. With some manoeuvring we got me out and on the bicycle path. The as they parked, I rolled up and onto the front patio. Was there a patio at the back? Yes. There was no way I could go around the hut because it was too rocky. So it had to be through.

The door was too narrow when one was opened, we then unlocked it's partner and swung both open and I was through. The concrete was uneven, it was difficult to push and go in the direction I wanted to go, the wheels and the tilt kept suggesting a different course, but we made it through to the back patio and took a table.

I haven't sat on a beach, anywhere, since becoming a wheelchair user. I gloried in it. We chatted and we laughed and we marvelled at the beauty of the world. It was beyond nice. I felt myself relax. It had been a race out here to see Dad while he was in the hospital, and he was doing so much better and we had had a really good visit and now was time to just let go of the tension.

Driving away I thought to myself that this place and this moment was now going to be my new 'happy place' when I need to take a breath.

Sometimes that's all we need.

A breath.

Of fresh ocean air.