We hadn't been for tea at our little local tea shop for some while. Though I got home from work later than planned and though I had more work yet to do, when I came in through the door, I saw Henry, my power chair, looking lost, lonely and worst of all ... dusty. It was time to go out. Joe got my manual chair in through the door as I cleared off the seat of my power chair. We were going out. We were going for tea.
It was a wet and cold late afternoon, the sky was already dark. But as I sped along, I found that the breeze, though bracing was somehow cleansing. Several things had happened during the day that seemed to conspire together to pull me out of myself and back into the world. It began with a team of people gathering together and agreeing to attempt something huge that will take hard work and incredible focus. They all seemed to be willing and determined to create time and space, where none existed, to do something simply because it was the right thing to do and because it would make a difference. I was buoyed up by their excitement. Sometimes it's really nice to be surrounded by youthful exuberance - to siphon off some optimism from those who see the world as it is - changeable.
Then I received two packages. The first was a bunch of magazines called Voice from Australia containing an article written by myself and others at Vita. One of the other authors was there in the office and I was able to let him open it and be the first to see it. That happened several weeks ago with the Abilities magazine, again I got to let a young staff open it first and see her name in print before any of the rest of us did. I like that kind of opportunity. Then, as if all that wasn't enough, I received another package, this one with the book "Rights Agenda" that was just published and for which I had been invited to write the introduction.
It was a day of nice things following nice things.
So, we were going out. I noticed that I was noticing things again. Seeing people bustling about. It was like being in the FOG I'd come to see the world as sparsely populated. As if driving into Canada's most populace city, the sign would read:
Welcome To Toronto
Where did all these people come from? I again began to see that my life is simply one of many, that my concerns are not the end of the world, but part of the world, that the worry that had visited my face - visited the faces of others. I could be alone in a crowd but not alone in a crowd. We are pack animals, I'd forgotten that in the past few days.
So, I met up with Joe at the bottom of the elevator. It's a shorter walk for him to go in down the stairs and meet me there. We trundled off to the tea shop. I parked at the table and picked up the phone to make a difficult call. It's one I'd been putting off, not having the energy, but Joe and I decided that now was as good a time as any. Joe indicated that he had to go to the bathroom. There was a line up at the counter so I continued to hold after indicating through a nod to the question "The usual? what it was we wanted"
I'd just hung up from a conversation that went better than it should have. But I must have been frowning when I closed the phone. A young man had been entering the small shop, he was painfully thin, had painful looking piercings on his lip and eyebrow, and walked assisted by a brace of some kind that wrapped around his shoe. He was carrying a hardcover book, "My Queer War" under his arm. I noticed him notice me notice the book. I saw a flash of panic in his face, then a momentary fearfulness at the look on my face. My face, at rest looks angry (something that has caused me no end of problems - 'yes, really, I'm fine') and my face, when frowning can look really daunting.
He stepped by me and carried two small bags of tea over to the line up at the counter. The phone was now placed down on the table and I was concerned. I wondered if he'd pegged me for some big ol' homophobic bigot who had seen the book and then seen him and cast judgements. "Let they who have not experienced harsh judgement cast the first ..." I glanced over at him and saw him standing, rigidly not looking in my direction.
I'm not going to let this happen. I'm simply not. I saw him standing 'living in' instead of 'being out' and I had been the cause of it. I've spent way too much of my life 'in' and in the last few weeks that's where I'd been living. No way was I going to be insensitive to my effect, even as a casual stranger, on another.
I've been reading the book "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks and that gave me the in. "May I see the book you are reading?" I asked. He looked at me shocked. I continued, "I am very interested in stories from the Wars, I don't know that book." My tone was studiously friendly. He handed the book over for me to see and stepped out of the line. I explained about "Birdsong" as I looked at his book, taken out of the library. His face relaxed and he told me a bit about the author of the book and how much he was enjoying it.
I'd just handed the book back to him when Joe returned from the washroom. The young man's face went from shock to realization and he grinned.
There had been an Ally where he had seen the Enemy.
He'd made a mistake that I have made often.
I had a chance to correct it this time. And I took it. It was only a moment but I'd been able to reclaim a situation that could have left a lingering bruise on another's heart and a lingering regret in my own. It was nice to again realize that I have power over how my world is experienced. By others but also by me. It was nice to realize, again, that I have a responsibility to ensure that who I am and how I am - does not damage or hurt who others are and how they experience their world.
He smiled as he wished us a good day.
And that was, I realized exactly the right thing to say.
Too often those moments pass us by and even when we "see" them go, we-or should I say I-don't know how to catch them and make it right.
Thanks for sharing this because it reminds me to catch those experiences and make them count.
That's such a wonderful story. I think my gay and trans friends are some of the bravest people I know.
About a year ago I was using the elevator when, unfortunately, it began to open on a floor I wasn't getting off on. Meaning there was someone else getting on the elevator. So I moved to the corner away from the door but as far back from the buttons as possible, too, so whoever it was wouldn't mind pressing the buttons. Then I stood up straight and looked forward/down and tried to "shut off" my eyes as I waited for my floor. That way hopefully I wouldn't do anything to upset people or draw attention to myself.
This whole thing is entirely unremarkable. What was different this time was that the person who got on the elevator didn't look directly at me but instead started to walk in circles repeatedly- the sort of thing I do when I'm alone in the elevator- and then quickly and wordlessly got off when the elevator got to his floor. I didn't think much of this until later, since I was focused on trying to appear uninteresting and nonthreatening to such a large man. If anything I was worried by someone acting differently than most people, acting in a way that I didn't know what the "right"/safe response to was.
I'm guessing we were both autistic. I much prefer your story, though.
I just found your blog, and this was the second posting I read.
The effort you took to be kind and go out of your way to make this a good experience I'm sure was not lost on this fellow.
If more people would take just a moment and choose kindness instead of letting things go or reacting the world may just improve a bit.
Homophobia and treating anyone (as in my case, the physically challenged and slightly sarcastic) as "the other" bothers me tremendously. I'd rather judge you on the quality of your character. That's really all I care about anyhow.
You seem to have character in spades. Of the good kind.
What a welcome find. Thanks for your blog.
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