Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Sitting quietly, almost unnoticed by all, having a coffee and flipping through a magazine. Ordinary, every day sight. Nothing in her movements drew the eye. Nothing in her demeanour caught the attention. Nothing in her style gave a single hint. She was just a young woman reading a magazine and having a coffee.

I only noticed her because I was watching for Joe to return with the sack of books and magazine that he was purchasing at the till while I was scoping out a table in the cafe. To watch for him I had to look directly over her head. Thus she was in my sight line. And I didn't know.

Joe joined me, we got tea and settled down to browse through our purchases. The bookstore in Fort Collins was just a few blocks from our hotel and we'd decided to just relax here and then move in there. It was then she got up and went to the clerk. She asked for a pen. "Do you have a pen that I can borrow."

9 words.

Spoken a fraction too loudly.

Spoken a second before the clerk was finished serving another guest.

It was enough.

And we all knew. She had a disability. A mild one, but a disability nonetheless.

I had to cover my ears to shield them from the sound of expectations falling. I had to avert my eyes away from annoyed faces - not annoyed at the disability, but annoyed that she'd tricked them. Fooled them. How dare she 'look' normal and 'be' different.

Oh, and she knew. She saw the faces. It disturbed her, I could tell, that she'd been found out. That others now glanced at her with curiosity - maybe a wee bit of hosility. They hadn't liked being tricked. They liked the idea of living in a world where difference was obvious. Where they could protect themselves because of the obviousness of a Down Syndrome eye or a Williams Syndrome ear.

She sat down into a different social reality than the one she had stood up into. I could almost hear her curse herself for asking for the pen. For making the slip.

But as she sat there, she focussed again on the magazine and made a note in the column. You could see her jaw set. She put the pen down, picked her coffee up and then looked around the room. Daring people to meet her eyes. She came to me and I didn't break gaze with her, I just nodded and smiled.

I knew what she was doing.

She was reclaiming ground.

She was Rosa Parks at the front of the bus.

She would not be moved.

These are the acts of everyday heroics of people with disabilities. The tiny acts of social rebellion that will one day remake the community, retake the stage.

She finished her coffee. Returned the pen. And walked out of the cafe.

On her terms.

They had tried to shame her.

And ended in shaming themselves.



Anonymous said...

David, We met you at the parents' workshop 4-5:30 today. Our dtr, Jessica was at B&N on Monday,drinking water and copying a recipe from a crockpot cookbook,(she cooks dinner for us on Wed. nights with provider support-getting ready for her own apt). She remembers borrowing a pen from a clerk to write her recipe.
Sure sounds like "victory" is about our dear dtr, just wondering if you were at B&N on Monday? I think you said this occurred on Tuesday when you spoke to the parents' group???...if it was Tuesday, she was not at B&N , but elsewhere in the community-(at the health club working out...)
LOVED your parents' presentation today!

All 4 My Gals said...

I don't know why I feel compelled to always comment, because honestly all I ever want to say is WOW. I just love that you get it. I want to think I got it before Tarenne was in my life. I know I got it for racial minorities...but I think I overlooked this group in our society. I so wish I would have gotten it like you so obviously do. It gives me hope. And yep, now I will say hi and acknowledge her very much needed presence in the bookstore. :)

I think the biggest compliment I can give you is to let you know that my husband now does not mind my reading aloud from your blog to him at night. ;)

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hi, we were there on Monday and indeed the young woman was coping a recipie from a cookbook.So it must have been Jessica - that's never happened before, telling a story about someone I saw in the community and having her parents in the room. Congrats, she handled herself with grace and will of steel! dave

Unknown said...

Thank you for observing and sharing.

Never That Easy said...

This is a great post, and I'm so glad you noticed and then took the time to write about it. Sometimes, when you're fighting a million different little battles, it's nice to know that at least someone understood.

Ruth said...

Great post - always enjoy reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Your posts are always like paintings...great word pictures.