Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bitter Instead of Sweet

We left the movie theatre behind a young fellow, also in a power chair, who was with a woman a few years older than he was. She glanced back and saw us, and then said something the the guy in the chair, she then sprinted off towards the elevator. He motored along behind. Between here and there he noticed someone, a guy his age, get off the escalator. The other fellow noticed the wheelchair dude at the same time. There was a big 'HEY!' from both of them. They stopped to talk.

Joe and I rounded the corner towards the elevator and found the slightly older woman standing in an empty elevator, holding the door open. She was glancing around wildly for the guy she was with. We waited. Finally she let the door go and ducked around the corner. Joe held the door for her. We weren't in a rush. It was a holiday weekend. We were fervently refusing to rush. She looked back, around the corner formed by the elevator, and saw him chatting leisurely with a friend. She took a big breath of frustration, looked at Joe conspiratorially, and rolled her eyes. I think she saw Joe as a fellow 'employee' and wanted a moments connection of 'Gosh it's frustrating to work with these inconsiderate wheelchair people.'

We got on the elevator and left her to waiting. I didn't say anything. I didn't think I needed to. He was doing a fine job of teaching her what her job was. He was having a spontaneous chat with a friend, letting life happen as it happened. She was waiting a few minutes for him to come. I knew it was only a few minutes because, Mike, Marissa, Ruby and Sadie, went down the escalators. They are, I was informed, more fun that elevators. A fact to which I agreed. So we waited at the bottom of the escalator and saw the young fellow and the staff, still looking annoyed, leave the building.

It seems to me that there is always a clash when someone's life becomes another person's workplace. Workplaces are designed with schedules and time tables and things that must be charted. Life lived, however, often doesn't. There's almost always a few minutes here, or a few minutes there, to accommodate the unexpected. A sudden need to stop and look in a store window, a brief meeting with an old friend, a quick urge to stop and get an ice cream ... this IS life. It's the moments that spice the hours, I think. Unexpected little pleasures that dot the emotional landscape. I'll bet he remembers his brief chat with his friend long after he's forgotten the movie. She, too, will remember this incident. Annoyance sticks as much as pleasure does.

I wonder, if in training, she learned that her job was his life, not the other way around. I wonder if they mentioned that quality of life means being able to go with the flow and let things happen as they should. I wonder if they suggested that she learn to take pleasure in his pleasure. I doubt it. But if she had learned these things, instead of being annoyed, instead of stressing herself out about an elevator - which by its nature will come back when called - instead of those things, she looked back and 'saw' what her work was making possible. A rich life. Instead of annoyance and stress, then she'd have gone home feeling like she'd accomplished something, something big.

Part of me felt sorry for her. To have made magic happen but to be unable to see it, to have set the stage for a 'moment' in another's life but then to not be able to see the play, that's tragic. Even worse, she'll probably build up annoyance into frustration and then, by the very nature of bitterness, not ever be able to taste the sweet again.


Sher said...

"It seems to me that there is always a clash when someone's life becomes another person's workplace." I have never thought of this fact, but you're right. Workplaces are places where things NEED to get done and usually in a particular way. Lives are messy, spontaneous and ever-changing. The two don't, and shouldn't be thought of as the same thing. How do we get this point across to service providers? How do we help "employees" realize that the magic is in the spontaneous moments of connection that leave us holding elevator doors alone? How do we understand that the less we are involved in the social lives of the people we support, the better we are doing our jobs? Thank you for the opportunity for more conversation.

Cindy B. said...

My husband will talk to anyone regardless of what else needs to be done. He does not have any disablity but I have often looked at other wives who are also waiting for their spouses and expressed a frustration on my face because there are "things to do".

You are right that life is the little things but sometimes he focuses so much on the little things that the big things get missed.

Belinda said...

Coffeetalk beat me to the first quote that hit me, so I'm going with the second one that did!

"I wonder, if in training, she learned that her job was his life, not the other way around."

Both sentences could be a basis for a great conversation in training and even for personal pondering--because I don't always get it right.

Anonymous said...

Any chance you misinterpreted the relationship between the two? Perhaps she was not an employee but rather his friend or girlfriend? You said only that she appeared a few years older. Her attempt to connect with Joe would have then been a generic 'friends/partners can be frustrating' and nothing more.

Have not commented before but enjoy your blog and the fact that it frequently challenges my way of thinking.

jo(e) said...

I love your perspective.

Nan said...

Its the moments that spice the hours. I LOVE that poetry! Sounds like a good title for a blog too! or a book! Definitely about mindfullness and being present. Happy summer all!

Mum of TDQ said...

Puzzled like some others... your point that "in training, she learned that her job was his life, not the other way around" is well made. Sure. Although we have had wonderful family support helpers who have never made me feel like this.

But how on earth do you know that this woman was staff? The times that I have hustled my kids, husband or friends along for some reason (late for train, dinner reservation, favourite show on TV... who the heck knows) is countless. I'm just a little surprised on this automatic assumtion. If there is one thing I've heard loud and clear from your blog, that's not to make assumptions. So I'm left puzzled... but thanks for making me think! I do slow down and smell the roses (and the leaves, and the dirt, and the trees) with my DD.

Anonymous said...

I keep running into this issue and was wondering what to think about it. One of my jobs in the past has been assessing and assisting younger people with disabilities into independent living, occasionally I run into them when out and about with their staff and sometimes they want to talk - I don't feel it is my place to initiate it but it is good when they want to "catch up" and tell me how well they are doing. However their staff always seem impatient and end up looking at me with either suspicion or hostility.

I've never been certain if it was the case of "someone's life becoming another's workplace" or time constraints or if it was protection and concern that I might do something bad to the person they were with.

How many times in my day to day life do I get to change my plans, stop for a chat with someone I haven't seen for ages? There doesn't seem to be an appreciation of what independent living is and what their role should be.

Interesting post Dave, it has made me revisit this debate again.