Saturday, June 30, 2007

Church Lady

It was her cane that I recognized. Until I saw it all she was to me was an older woman shopping for cheese in the local grocery store. Then I spotted her cane, a jaunty one of a kind piece of usable art. "The church lady!" I thought. Joe and I had begun to go to a church near us a while back and stopped because it was a frosty cold kind of place. The only person who ever spoke to us was an elderly disabled woman who sat at the back of the church in the "disabled and elderly" seats.

So I pulled up next to her and said hello. Joe was a few feet behind me picking up pizza rounds but soon was beside me greeting her as well. She's a delightful woman and dove into our chat with enthusiasm. She told us that she was pretty much housebound now and that she was relying on daily nursing care in order to stay at home. She wasn't whinging or moaning, she was just describing her life - because of our brief church attendance she was treating us as old friends.

Then she asked about us, the social arts as often practiced by the elderly are beautiful and graceful, and showed real interest in our answers. We talked a bit, keeping things brief as we could see her tiring from the effort of being up, being out and being in conversation. Then she asked me, "Do you mind me asking if you ever walked or if you've always been in a wheelchair?" I explained to her that I'd only been in the chair for a year and a half coming on to two years now. She nodded and put that information tidily away.

We wished each other well, she exhorted us to come back to church so she'd have company at the back. We laughed and said that we just might. Knowing of course that we wouldn't.

As I waited for Joe to load the groceries into the car it struck me. She's the first person I am aware of that only knew me as disabled. Everyone else in my life, even casually, knew me 'before and after'. And somehow it bothered me.

It pains me to write this, but I've promised myself to be honest in my blog, there was a growing discomfort, maybe even panic, in my chest. It was like I'd swum to far and lost sight of the shore. The boundaries of normalicy, of the land of the walking, were fading into the distance. I knew, suddenly and irretreivably, that I was never going to be a citizen of that land again. That as much as I am comfortable with this new land and this new life, I had to now give up my passport.

Everyone I meet from now on, will know me as who I am now. Not who I was then. All of this tumbled in on me in the blink of an eye. I got up and helped Joe load the wheelchair into the car and we were off. We waved at her as she came out of the store with her cart and she smiled brilliantly, picked up her cane as if it was a part of her and waved back.

If she can sail so far from shore.

So can I.

So can I.


Anonymous said...

"Who you are" is hardly defined by a wheelchair. You are, I suspect, the same generous, caring person you were before. You just sit down more.

Happy said...

I don't know if this comment will be seen on such an old post, but I know exactly how this feels. I contracted M.E. three years ago, and I'm nearly bedridden. Today someone was telling me 'don't give up hope', but the truth is that this illness has a very low recovery rate - about 5%, I think. There is a chance I'll improve some, but there's the same chance that I'll end up so weak I'll have to be catheterized and tube-fed, living in a darkened room with very little sensory input. Of course that frightens me. Of course I never want that to happen. But I know that if it comes, I will find a way to be happy, and I will want to live.

Sometimes I have disability pride. But on rare days, days like today, I curse at M.E. and rage at the world for the casual disdain with which my illness is treated by the medical community. "We can't figure out how to treat you, so you're obviously faking it." And it hurts to remember all the things I'll never do again.

I disagree with anonymous, at least in my case. M.E. has changed me, and is still changing me. I'm not the same person.

I don't want to hope for a cure. Some hopes make the heart sick. I can and do hope for improvement, or at least stability. But more than that, I hope for attitudes to change. I hope that I will live to see the day when the medical establishment realizes what they did to us when they collectively wrote us off. Just as they did to the people you write about, though for different reasons.

Thank you for being so real about what it is to be disabled.

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