Sunday, December 17, 2006


I first noticed last year. Christmas time returning from a road trip, I was shopping in the airport. I'd been in the wheelchair for about a month. Joe is not the shopper I am and stayed at the breakfast place to have another tea. Something caught my eye in a store that had narrow aisles. Being fat has given me the ability to accurately determine fit, I figured I could - if careful - get in and out of the store without crashing over a display.

Finding myself now in the store and with a purchase in my hand, I couldn't push myself because my hands were full. I caught the eye of a business suited guy who was leaving the till. "Could you put this on the counter for me?" I asked him pleasantly. He became very flustered. "Yeah, ummm, sure, you want me to push you?" He, skinny little gaffer, almost knocked over displays getting to me. I told him that all I needed was for him to put the item on the counter. He did so grinning almost maniacly, then rushed out of the store.

His whole body screamed pleasure, like he wanted to shout - I HELPED A CRIPPLE. I'd made his Christmas. It was like in the single act of helping me he had absolved himself of every sin, an act of kindness was like an act of contrition. That was the first time, of many many times since, that I thought of Tiny Tim's feeling that it was good for others to look upon his disability and be reminded "upon this Christmas day of He whom made the lame walk and the blind man see." God, I hate that kid. I hate that view of disability. (We're here to remind YOU about how lucky YOU are that YOU aren't us. Trust me MY disability is about ME not you.)

Everywhere I've been this week, people have been smiling at me. A sad simpering smile. Please! Mostly it strikes me funny. Sometimes it's annoying. Others intrusive. It's like I don't always want to be reminded about how visible I've become.

I think that what bothers me is that people are so free to give sympathy, pity without translating those emotions into into jobs, respect, neighbourliness. That businessman fumbling around to help me would do better ensuring that his companies hiring policy ensured access to jobs for people with disabilities. The woman who held the door for me yesterday (like she'd never need to give to charity again because she'd HELPED A CRIPPLE TODAY) would do better if she ensured that people with disabilities were properly welcomed in her local school or community.

I know, I know, I'm carping. Here I am Titanic Tim bitching aobut people smiling at me for heaven's sake.

Oh, well, then ... "God bless us, every one."


Anonymous said...

This is one of the most hilarious things I've ever read. Man, I'm never going to smile at someone in a wheelchair again! And hold the door open? I wouldn't dream of offending one [that is, 'someone', not ' a crip']Hmm... that probably isn't your point, is it Dave? Seriously, you make me think, Dave, you really make me think. Frances

Ettina said...

In my case, if a disabled person interacts with me I often react like that - not because I HELPED A CRIPPLE (and I need not have helped them, just had a nice interaction with them) but because I feel so alone interacting with the myriad of normal people out there, and any contact with a disabled person (particularly developmentally disabled) lessens my loneliness a bit.

SuzanneNoor said...

Ok, this comment is posted YEARS after you posted this blog so you will probably never see it, but man, you've got me all confused now. I love your blog, I've gone back to the very beginning to catch up, and I am truly inspired by your humanity, and your perception of it in the world around you. I want to reach out to all kinds of other people, not just disabled ones, but I'm so socially shy that it's hard for me. And now I find out that if I smile at a disabled person I might be offending them? I'm SO confused. I just have no idea how to grow in this new direction. Am damned if I do and damned if I don't?