We'd gone out for lunch in Collingwood. As Susan and I had an appointment up there and as I knew I would need Joe's assistance with the wheelchair and with getting in and out of the building, he drove up with us and we all had lunch before heading to the meeting. We were seated at a table for four in a popular restaurante that filled with the lunch trade. Collingwood has lots to offer for summer visitors and it wasn't hard to pick out the families on summer vactations.
The table closest to us had a family of 5. Dad sat at the head of the table, the two young boys sat with their backs to us and the youngest child, a girl, sat beside her Mom on the other side of the table, facing us. I noticed them only briefly when they entered the restaurant as did Susan. We were doing an intake for the Sexuality Clinic so we are always aware of who's around so that we can govern our conversations appropriately. We sometimes forget that words we use on a day to day basis can be shocking or upsetting to those who hear only snippets of conversations. Surrounded by families with children we switched to safe topics like movies, summer bbq's and the like.
Then I noticed one of the boys turned and looking in my direction. As a big, fat guy in a wheelchair, I get looked at a lot. Most of the time I brush it off, but sometimes it annoys me. When children stare, it bothers me that their parents - like this kid's Dad sitting right beside him - don't parent. I was taught not to stare. Now this kid's dad doesn't need to cuff his kid upside the head like my parents did me, but he could have said something.
Joe and Susan were in mid conversation so I mouthed the words, "Don't stare, it's rude" to the boy looking at me. He didn't flush, didn't look away, didn't seem to notice my words or my discomfort with his open gaze. I looked, frustrated up at Dad who was also looking in my direction. But because Dad was taller I could see that he was looking up and over my shoulder. I glanced round and saw a television set behind me playing the sports channel. I quickly glanced back down and really looked at the kid and saw that he wasn't looking at me at all, he was, like his dad looking at the television behind me.
I was so pleased I hadn't spoken louder or in any way caught the child's eyes. I would have looked like a bitter, suspicious old toad who anticipated and expected the worst in others. I would have looked like someone who assumed the worst of humanity and was ready for a fight that didn't need to happen. I would have looked like I had marinated my self in self-righteousness and was ready to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation.
It is my fervent prayer that I don't become that person. That because I've changed status by becoming a member of the disabled classes, I don't cloak myself in negative expectations. I don't want to become dominated by anger and closed to discourse. I don't want to decide that I've learned what all I need from human enterprise and therefore give up on others, on myself and on future friendships.
I know that being in a wheelchair has changed me in the eyes of many. I just don't want to become what others expect.
So I apologize to that kid.
Even though he never noticed what I said to him, I had no right to speak before I understood what was going on.
I'm learning that a lot recently.