Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Maybe I Need a Remote Control

There are days entered into cautiously. Days where the probability of either humiliation or discrimination is heightened. These fears, which can border on the paranoiac, are real. Getting up into a morning of airports and airplanes is getting up into a morning of fear. I am a fat man. I am in a wheelchair. I am entering into hostile territory. Where seats were made for those with narrow hips, where aisles seem long and where bathrooms are tiny. So I take a breath, remind myself why I do what I do, remember that I love doing what I do, and thus fortified, I get up.

We arrived at the airport in Toronto and were met, in the area for customers with special needs, with kindness and a willingness to help. I have to say that I think Air Canada is exceptional at giving exceptional service to people with exceptionalities. When offered a push to the gate, I refused. I'm much better at long distance pushing now and made it to the gate with little to no assistance. The folks at security were accommodating and, again, kind. I asked the guy who patted me down if he hated doing it as much as I hated it having it done. He said, 'I don't like to have to do this to passengers, but it must be twice as difficult for you. There is a difference,' he said with a wisdom that surprised me, 'between touching and being touched.' I nodded, surprised at how his understanding moved me.

The people at the gate were also terrific. They let me tell them what worked for me and didn't suggest that they knew best what help I should need. What I like is a bit out of the rule book, but the guy nodded and said, 'if that's what works for you, then that's what works for me.' I wondered if he knew, that all night I had feared him, that I had prayed that I'd get someone like him, someone with both ears and a mind. I thanked him and as he turned I looked to see if I could see God's fingerprints on his back ... the one's that pushed him into my orbit that day.

The only blip was when going to get breakfast, we went into a restaurant, empty except one table. The waitress near freaked out and only manged to squeak out, 'Do you want breakfast?' Like she was surprised I ate. We nodded and headed to the table we usually sit at for breakfast. She pointed at a table way off at the side and said I had to sit there. Now, first, I couldn't get there because there was no room to get by all the tables between where I was and where she wanted me to be. I asked why. She told me that I was a fire hazard. I told her I'd eaten there before and not one got flamed. But, no, she wouldn't serve us unless we went to the tables that we couldn't get to.

Frustrated we headed to another restaurant and got breakfast. Suddenly, in front of me, appears ACW (Air Canada Woman) who helped me out once at security. She rescued my wheelchair tools from an eager, and very, very, pompous, security guy who seemed to think that I'd be able to disassemble the plane with my allen wrench. I've seen her since and she's always friendly. We then had a nice chat about accessibility and she told me of having rescued a passenger with a service dog - security wanted to take his harness. We figure that she's got the cause, now she needs the cape. We laughed. It was a tremendous break from the silliness of the waitress.

But, here's the thing, and I don't like it. Everyone was wonderful to me, except her. Everyone treated me with dignity and respect, except her. Everyone listened and helped when needed, except her. We arrived in Vancouver having had a great flight, a flight that was completely at variance with the one I feverishly had imagined in the night.

And yet.

I will remember her, and the restaurant that wouldn't serve me.

I will remember being deemed dangerous to the health and safety of others.

I will remember that act of exclusion even though I was surrounded by acts of welcome.


How do I change that?

I need to change that.

Cause, a while from now, I'm flying back. And I want a good night sleep beforehand. It's like when I want to change the setting from 'anticipate horror and horrible treatment' to 'anticipate helpful people and pleasant interchanges' my mind screams DON'T TOUCH THE DIAL - prejudice and humiliation will be right back.

Has anyone learned how to change the channel?

If so, give me hints.


Andrea S. said...

I wish I could help. Unfortunately I have trouble changing that mental channel, too.

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says - Oh, Dave! If you ever find out how to change that channel, please share it with us!

Liz Miller said...

I haven't found a remote control yet either to change the channel from negative thoughts to positive ones.

But perhaps you can re-read this wonderful post of yours before your next flight?

Tamara said...

I can see why you would want to remember the positives before setting out on a trip; however, isn't it remembering these negatives that helps all of us keep pushing for change?

Nan said...

I tried, one morning, blessing everything that came my way. Now THAT was an adventure. I blessed, yes, the sun, and yes, my loving family, but I also blessed the mailman who brought me a whopping tax bill and the plumber who I had to call because our toilet exploded, and I even blessed the exploding toilet, and then found I had to bless the teacher who didn't want my daughter in the drama focus program . . . and I had to work really hard at that . . . and well, it made my day quite different and forced me to look at the people who block my delight (and my daughter's rights) in a new way. This blessing day (or if you have a Buddhist bent, a lovingkindness day) changed me quite a bit. And often now, instead of dreading, I wonder what new ways I will be challenged to bless the world around me.

Liz said...

Injustice is everywhere. Sometimes, though, I find I need to follow the advice I give my kids from time to time: let it roll like water off a duck's back. If there's nothing to be done about it, I imagine the hurt, the hate, the vitriol, touching me but then rolling off and leaving me free of it.

"Water off a duck's back" is an oft-repeated phrase in my house.

Princeton Posse said...

How to change the message? Why does one derogetory statement stick with you when all the wonderful compliments disappear? I wish I had the answer. Still searching.

Anonymous said...

I'm VERY good at reminding others (i.e. my children) to "look for the positive, let go of the negative". Somehow I seem to have trouble with doing this myself. hmmmm.....

Debbie (NJ)

Ceeej said...

The question of changing that mental channel? I've recently (at least for now) overcome a lifelong negative mental voice that I always thought was realism / pragmatism. The only thing that worked? Practice, practice, practice. It's been about 6 months. I'll let you know how tomorrow goes :-) Good luck!

Anonymous said...

You are a fire hazard? If there was a fire, did she plan on leaving you there?

You could have told her that for fire safety it was *necessary* that you sit right where you wanted to, so in case of a fire you could leave too, without being blocked by others.

I'd ask to speak to the manager, or at least send an email after the fact. They may not know that their staff is turning people away like this.

But some days aren't meant for fighting and you just want a quiet breakfast. I don't blame you for picking another place.


Noisyworld said...

If that server thought you were a fire hazard she's an idiot and the bosses need to know she's an idiot :( If she hadn't have been so daft they would have got your business- their loss.
I know what you mean about being on the wrong channel but I try not to fear life, I just deal with what happens at the time- not always well but I don't worry in anticipation as much as I used to. If I do worry I try to use a form of visualisation to create a solution to the problem, which I could use in each situation.
If you find the remote for the world could I have the mute button please? :D

Anonymous said...

Fire hazard? Dude! Obviously, the waitress thought you were smokin' hot!

Sue :^) :^) :^) :^)

Belinda said...

I'm glad the rest of the journey went well, but that oh my goodness what dishonouring treatment. No wonder all the other tables were empty. She's just very lucky you didn't name the restaurant here.

Kristin said...

Changing that mental channel can be so damned hard. I think the only thing you can do is make repeated and concerted attempts at it.

Louise said...

Sometimes - just sometimes - it helps me if I remember how sad it must be to be the person who doesn't help, who puts obstacles in other people's way, and all the rest. For her family mustn't have taught her well about life, and difference, and loving regard for another. Her boss obviously hasn't trained her properly either. If she needed to panic because you were there then she obviously has some sort of disability in learning about the world (otherwise she'd get it without a teacher!) - and no-one has taught her. I wonder how she felt at the end of her day, having effectively turned you away?