Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lost ... For Words

I pushed myself out of the elevator and saw her sitting on one of the couches in the lobby. I pushed over so I could park beside the security desk to wait for Joe to bring the car around. I was working elsewhere in the city and it was impossible to get through to WheelTrans to book a trip to somewhere other than my preselected destinations.

Just before I parked she asked if I needed her help to get through the door. I smiled and imagined this small woman with a huge walker struggling to help push me through the door, though I was glad of her willingness. I told her that I was waiting for Joe to bring the car around. She smiled at Joe's name. This is no surprise, by now Joe knows every old lady in the building by name, they all think that he is a sweetheart of a man - all because he listens to their chatter and laughs at their jokes.

She then asks me if I can get through the doors on my own. Long time readers of this blog will remember when I wrote about my sense of victory the day I attempted and succeeded in getting through the inner and outer doors on my own, I told her that I could, it was difficult but I could. She said that it was difficult for her too, that she always looks for the 'disabled button' on doors to help her get in and out of buildings. I agreed that I did too and said that those automatic doors weren't just good for those of us with disabilities but for those with packages, with children, with strollers. She agreed that they did make life easier for a lot of people.

I told her that I'd only been in the chair for a little over three years but now I am glad of all those people who fought so hard for access, curb cuts, wider hallways, bars in bathroom stalls - each one was a victory that made it such that I, now, had access. She nodded and then fell quite silent.

I thought the conversation had just run it's natural course and that we were done, but a few moments later she said, "You know, when I was younger, I used to complain about the money that was spent on curbs and on ramps. I used to say that it was a waste of taxpayers money, that working people shouldn't have to pay for these things. I never thought that one day I'd be glad of a ramp or a curb cut." She looked quite ashamed of herself. I said, 'Well, we are allowed to live and learn, you know."

"I suppose," she said, "but, in my case I think it was meanness not ignorance."

It wasn't until she said that that I realized that she was right, there was a difference between those two things. That there are two sources of prejudice, that there are two battles to be fought. Joe then pulled the Beetle up to the front of the building and she smiled and waved to him. He saw her and gave her a huge smile.

"What a nice young man," she said.

I agreed and pushed over to the door to wait for him to come through. She said, "Maybe if I'd been less mean, I wouldn't be alone now."

I didn't say anything because I simply didn't know what to say.


tekeal said...

"Maybe if I'd been less mean, I wouldn't be alone now."

that's honesty that pierces the heart.

Gonzo said...

I second that!

Also I'm going to bookmark this blogentry, so I can link to it next time I read mean comments, like: "You disabled people just cost money!" and "It's not my problem, so why should I pay for it!"
I usually reply, that everyone reaches a level of disability with old age, but this story illustrates it much better.

Jenn McWhorter said...

This reminds me of how I used to begrudge the disabled parking spots in the store parking lots. I used to say things like:

"Cripples don't GO anywhere, why should they get the best spots?"


"People in wheelchairs don't NEED to park closer in, they don't even have to walk!"

Years later, I'm the cripple in the wheelchair.

And I learned what it means when karma bites you on the ass.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. :(

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to the dear lady, and she is a dear. She cannot undo her past, but she seems to be kind and caring now. Some folks never learn from their mistakes, but she has. I bet Joe, and now you, truly brighten her day.

Anonymous said...

I have long suspected that those with "crusty" exteriors are just protecting the marshmallow beneath.

FridaWrites said...

Well, as far as her final comments go, maybe ask her for tea or company? I'll bet she'd enjoy just sitting and talking with you and Joe.

B.Miner, yes, I've learned that. ;)

It's not karma, Jenn, it's just a chance to explain to other people--you can more easily change someone's belief when you empathize with their position and realize where it's coming from. With more information, people would understand why.

Interesting that you mention curb cuts, Dave. I have a draft of a post that's about the history of curb cuts. And yeah, those doors help people with osteoporosis, people without a lot of arm/back strength, etc.

Terri said...

This post hit me so hard. First, that poor lonely soul--who knows she made the bed she's lying in... ouch.

Secondly, I think that the disability rights movement acts as if all resistance is ignorance, when much of it is meanness. Seems meanness requires different strategies than just educating, educating, educating... As you say, Frida, those who have made the transition would be very good spokespeople.

Glee said...

I agree with Terri and agree that there is a lot of down right meanness out there. I think the reason we work from the education angle is that it's easier to fix ignorance than it is to fix meanness. As a rights activist I go around the meanness. :-)


FridaWrites said...

Yes, you're right--I've seen that too!

Anonymous said...

As a non-disabled person, I've been noticing lately how some of these accommodations help ME - the automatic door buttons in my building are super useful when I'm carrying a tray of food from the cafe upstairs to my office, and I was able to catch my bus the other day only because it had been delayed slightly to "kneel" for a wheelchair user.