Monday, October 29, 2012


Somewhere, in the long list of things that people with disabilities shouldn't have to experience from our non-disabled counterparts, would be what happened today. I don't know if it would be near the top, or near the bottom, but it would be on the list. I think the ranking may differ from day to day and mood to mood, but the ranking is there. Here it is, you tell me where it ranks for you.

We were having lunch, an amazing cauliflower and cheddar tart. Trust me, it is way, way, better than it sounds. I had rolled out from the cashier to find my way blocked by a huge, HUGE, baby stroller. It was the HUMMER of strollers. I couldn't get passed it. The woman accompanying the stroller was holding a tiny baby in her arms. The baby looked like he would have been lost inside that thing. She'd parked it only a foot or two outside the exit at the cash register. And, when asked to move the stroller so I could get by, she refused. She was busy with the baby.

A fellow sitting at the table across the aisle from her got his family to pull their tables out of the way so I could get by. I thank him. He said it wasn't necessary to be grateful. But I was, and I said it. I still don't understand why she choose to park a giant stroller in such a way that even walking people had difficulty getting around it. The place was nearly empty.

But that's not what I'm writing about.

I went and found a table somewhere where my chair wouldn't be in the way. I do that. I think most of us do. Firstly, it's polite. Secondly, I don't want people stepping over me and into me. So, we started our tarts with a bit of tart conversation about the social skills of the woman who should have used some of the money spent on the giganto-stroller on training in social graces or at least depth perception. But then we forgot. A social nuisance is just that.

Just as a piece of tart was making its perilous journey over my shirt towards my mouth, a hand landed softly on my shoulder. I was startled, but didn't drop the tart, and turned to look. A smiling elderly face met mine and a gentle voice said, "God bless you." And in case I didn't hear it, as her hand lingered on my shoulder, she said it again, "God bless you." Then she lifted her hand joined her husband and they left the cafe.

"What does that even mean?" asked Joe,completely annoyed by what had just happened, "Really, what does that even mean?"

I told him that I get creeped out by that. I don't feel 'touched' by the hand on my shoulder, I feel 'felt' which is a much different experience. And. like him, I have no idea what is meant by that ... I mean I didn't sneeze. I didn't have any interaction with her at all. In fact I hadn't even noticed them in the cafe.

"God bless you."

I know that's she's attempting to do something nice.

But it's creepy.

And part of what makes it creepy is that, like Joe, I don't know what it means in that context. One stranger singling out another stranger for a laying on of hands and a blessing. Why? What is being said? Why is it being said?

I'm sure it would bother her, or I hope it would bother her, to know that her actions caused us both to feel kind of icky. To feel intruded upon. To feel lessened by her action. Both of us.

So, I'll take random strangers doing randomly thoughtless things over those who intend to be nice but instead leave me feeling a need to look for motive, when, I know, there is one.


Anonymous said...

I think it's incomprehensible to touch a stranger in that manner, with or without a disability. You're probably a better person than I, or at least more polite, because I would likely have stared blankly, and inquired, "Bless me for what?" or at least, "I beg your pardon?" She probably doesn't even know she was being rude or creepy.

Martijn said...

Although there is probably no doubt that that person was sincere, I find it highly inapropriate and rude to both touch someone like that and say something like that. I always wonder how they would feel if I would invade their personal space, touched them and meddled with their personal life.

Unfortunately we will never know. /And it doesn't matter too much, because, at least to me, it does not happen often. Yet I always get the urge after they've left, to make a snarky remark, to put them in their place. But that would in turn be rude of me, and usually not worth the effort.

Beth said...

Alas, I wonder what the chances are it'd bother her because she'd think the two of you were so rude not to appreciate her taking an interest. I've never said anything back to anyone who's "blessed" me, but I've countered strangers who have asked medical questions (both the intrusive and the inane), and they've all come back with "But I was just being nice!" It's almost funny. They stop their questions because the answer to my question, some form of "Do you think it's appropriate to ask strangers medical questions?" outside a medical context, is "no", yet they think doing so is "being nice"? This is actually different from strangers who insist on physically "helping" me despite my protesting: even if called on it, they're sure they're right to do it.

My boyfriend has had strangers ambush him with prayer and laying on of hands in an attempt to heal him. This is especially bad for him because he had the misfortune to grow up in that religious background with a congenital disability. He can remember someone at church taking him aside when he was 5 to tell him that both his disability and his not being healed no matter how much they prayed for him was because he'd sinned horribly. Apparently he'd committed some great offense from the womb. Me, I've never had someone combine laying hands and prayer. Probably a good thing in that the remaining touch of PTSD still means I could respond violently (a bit over the top) to uninvited touch.

So far, I think the only strangers who have told me "bless you!" have been in the fairly benign (but perplexing and kinda creepy) hit-and-run way you described. I suspect most of them mean it in the demeaning way the last person that said this to me indicated.
I was out running errands and I went by a dollar store I often visit.
As I go in, two little old ladies are coming out. Both are giving me a pity stare. One says, "God bless you! Out all by yourself!"
It was all I could do not to laugh in their faces. I made in inside before I cracked up (and, because me coming in and laughing so much was odd, recounting the incident to the not-busy cashier, who well-knew I came in there alone fairly often). It was so patronizing. It let me know the lady believed it was amazing that someone like me was out, especially without a caregiver because that's just not the way it is. I'm young enough to be in the class of women with mobility devices who commonly are judged to be teenagers. I wonder if the woman would have said the same thing if I appeared elderly (the other option in this absurd dichotomy) like her, instead. I doubt it. What a thing for someone to say! And I'm sure they're just being nice: everyone could use God's blessing, right? They think so, anyway.

Anonymous said...

That is so horrible.

Anonymous said...

Funny - I never take offense at a blessing - just a curse. I'll take all the blessings I can get. Only God knows her heart and motive - and I am responsible for my reactions. The touch, although seemingly lingering, was on one of the "safe" areas. She required no response from you. I can understand wondering "where did that come from" but she may have observed your struggles with the buggy, the resistance you met, your obvious graciousness, your appreciation of the efforts of other - and perhaps felt you deserved recognition. What more can a person give you than a blessing from the Most High. I'd take it and just simply say thank you. She in turn is blessed.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, often a comment like that is said with pity, and a touch of "thank goodness that isn't me!" It is not okay to touch a stranger like that, even in their "safe" areas. It may not be "safe" for the person doing the touching. You don't know that person's story.

Beth said...

Also, why exactly is it ok to presume everyone else is of their religion or even of any at all? It isn't as if going around blessing people is a common custom in the culture (aside from a response to sneezing and some etymology). How was the stranger to know Dave's position on religion?
I'd bet ableism/disableism and Christian privilege were in play.

Utter Randomness said...


I have a great story about the whole praying, Healing, laying on of hands thing. I had a woman come up to me when I was still on crutches after I aggravated my leg a couple winters ago and asked if she could try to Heal me. I didn't feel like arguing, so I said yes. She prayed and laid hands on my extremely painful leg and then asked me if it worked. I said no, so she actually tried again and then asked me to walk without my crutches. At that point my girlfriend at the time, now my fiancée stepped in and tried to get her to back off, because she wouldn't listen to me. And THEN, some guy walks by and says "it's improved 13.5%, but I still wouldn't walk on it, and I know because I'm psychic." We managed to get away after that, and managed to get out of earshot before laughing ourselves silly.

Anonymous said...

My son has SMA type 2 and has been in a power chair since he was 3. When he was was 8 or 9 he was in town with the neighborhood kids when he was approached by a man who blessed him and was then trying to find out his name. When my son asked why he wanted to know his name, the man said at his church they pray for the sick. When my son was telling me what happened, just as I was getting my whole "how to deal with these people" speech ready, he tells me "I just told him I wasn't sick". Then he rolled away. I couldn't have been more proud.

Nan said...

I get creeped even in an appropriate situation. I was at a Christian meditation retreat and as I entered a very evangelical woman greeted me with a loud "God LOVES you!" (This was not typical for the very low key org that hosts these retreats.) I seriously considered turning around and driving away, but instead said "She sure does!" I did see a bit of confusion in her face. I figure that was my blessing on her. No more laying on of hands from her that weekend. Of course, that IS the beauty of a silent retreat.

BubbleGirl said...

I've never had the "God Bless You" from a stranger, but when I was suffering from a sudden onset movement disorder, I had someone sit down beside me while I was reading a book, and smoking a cigarette (very clearly having "alone time"), and he asked if he could pray with me for healing.

I am not a religious person, and I was uncomfortable with the experience, and I tried to politely decline 4 or 5 times. He refused to be refused, and I eventually just hung my head in silence, and waited for him to be done.

Even thoough he didn't touch me, he invaded my personal space, and he invaded my privacy, and he ignored my religious freedom. I felt violated. Even though I know it was done with the best intentions.

Moose said...

Oh, yes, the "oh you poor thing, let God bless you because otherwise you might suffer."

Yeah, sorry. It's belittling and demeaning and built on the belief that disabled people aren't really "people", they're objects of pity.

Re: The SuperStroller. I was just ranting about how the stupidmarket this morning was full of young mothers with one small child, all parking their carts in the middle of the aisles and refusing to move them so I (or anyone else) could get by. My belief is that it was one or both of a) worry that their monster^Wchild would start grabbing things and throwing them around and/or b) worry that some monster^Wmythical pedophile would come along side, grab their child, and run.

Really, lady, GTF OUTTA MY WAY. Sheesh.

Kristine said...

I'm not sure where it ranks on the list either... I guess when I consider many other things on "the list," this one's milder by comparison. But it's definitely on the list!

Some have mentioned how offensive it is to the nonreligious... Let me just add, as a religious person, it bothers me that actions like this are making religion into something weird and intrusive, rather than the something beautiful and sacred that it is to me!

I actually remember one of the first times it happened to me, as a kid. My family was out and about, and some guy on his bicycle slowed down to tell my brother and I, "God bless you both!" We went silent, confused, no idea what the correct response was. My mom, seemingly embarrassed by our silence, chirped, "Say thank you!" So we did, and he went on his way. If I remember right, my brother and I then exchanged our best little kid "WTF?" glances, while my parents commented, "That was nice."

I still haven't figured it out. I still don't know what it's supposed to mean. I guess the only motivation I can assign is "pity." I still don't know how to respond. I've been known to just look confused, and stammer, "You too...?" The last time some guy stopped me downtown to tell me how much God loves me and is going to bless me, I guess I was in a good mood, because I smiled and said, "He already has!" Because He has, very much so. And I resent the assumption that I'm any more in need of blessings than any other stranger on the street.

Anonymous said...

A person I support went outside to have a smoke before leaving a restaurant; when I went out the person who had been washing the windows was telling this person if he would just accept Christ and repent that he would be healed. The window washer man did not know that this guy's father was an evangelical christian and if praying and repenting and laying on hands could heal, it would have happened long ago. I could see the stress and confusion that the person I supported was feeling. It did something unflattering to my atheist psyche and I turned, seething, and told this man that my god did not need to heal people because he did not make mistakes! If his god made mistakes maybe he should just get a new one that really loved all the people. No matter what!

Louise said...

When my foster son was 7 he was extremely cute with big blue eyes - and also very obviously living with severe disabilities. Someone from a prayer meeting we attended came up to him and said 'I can see the Holy Trinity shining out of your eyes' (the point being she was so interested in seeing this that she didn't see him at all) and he drew himself up with all the dignity he could muster, looked her straight in the eye, and said the rudest word he knew: "Kinckers!"

Louise said...

When my foster son was 7 he was extremely cute with big blue eyes - and also very obviously living with severe disabilities. Someone from a prayer meeting we attended came up to him and said 'I can see the Holy Trinity shining out of your eyes' (the point being she was so interested in seeing this that she didn't see him at all) and he drew himself up with all the dignity he could muster, looked her straight in the eye, and said the rudest word he knew: "Kinckers!"

frieda said...

On my list:
- beeing asked "may I tell you something?" ,followed by: "You don´t have to be ill, you know."
- beeing patted on the head or pinched in the cheek; "you know, it´ll soon be better, just trust ...(whom varies)"
-beeing blessed by a stranger, unasked
- beeing pushed into a shelf, sitting in my wheelchair in a shop, "someone wants to pass"
-trying to find my way to the things I want to buy in a shop and ending in one blind end after the other because the store is stuffed
-beeing given ideas and ideas about sports I should make
- beeing given ideas and ideas about how to relax more
- beeing told how brave I am - that I exist, that I work, that I ....
- beeing thrown out of the cinema because I could be an obstruction in case of fire
- beeing looked at, while sitting in the sun with my dog, an then my dog hears:" You wonderful wonderful doggie looking after this lady"

*my very top of the list are these two:
- beeing told by strangers:"Wow, youuuuu´re fast /sportive /energetic..." when I´m hurrying in my wheelchair from the only wheelchairaccessible restroom of the entire building to the room where my class is waiting for me to continue my lecture (they aready had some coffee and some recreation, other than me)
- beeing told by strangers:"Wow, youuuuu´re fast /sportive /energetic..." when I try to manage to get over the steep ramp into my favourite bakery , and the only way I can manage is with lots of effort and in some speed.

What´s not on my list:
- beeing blessed by my old aunt, telling me she prays for me and my girlfriend and our well-beeing during tough times
-children telling me: "I´d like to sit in a wheelchair, I hate sunday walks."

Anonymous said...

"Some have mentioned how offensive it is to the nonreligious... Let me just add, as a religious person, it bothers me that actions like this are making religion into something weird and intrusive, rather than the something beautiful and sacred that it is to me!"

I agree with this. As a Christian, I find it a bit offensive that people are turning this into a religious witch hunt. As pointed out earlier - we don't know the motives of this woman. Her timing may be off (Dave eating), her reasons blurry - but surely it was done without malace.

I also was surprised that Dave didn't embrace it - at least on the surface. From my understanding from his blog he is "Christian" - but maybe he isn't. Saying "thank you" accepts the good and dismisses that bad, in that you don't accept it.

I am so sorry many of you have had bad experiences with your brushes with fanatic believers. Please don't paint everyone the same color - just as we "fight" not to have those with disabilities with the same color.

Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean He doesn't exist. It is your choice. He longs for a relationship with you - but doesn't force you into it. We, as His servants, should not be forcing it on you either.

If we look for God in people and their actions - we will always be disappointed. Avoid the "middle man" - go to the top!

Oh - bless you all.

Susan said...

That would creep me out too... even more than the profusion of hairs I found when I turned down the bed clothes in my hotel room the other night and was about to crawl in to what was supposed to be a bed that was not slept in by anyone else before me!

It must be the week for creepy stuff to happen. :)

wheeliecrone said...

For me, it is equally annoying, but the people who do thoughtless stuff are just that - thoughtless. Clueless. People who, with the kindest intentions, do and say thoughtless things - well, they might be teachable. Possibly.
I always thank people for doing something which I believe comes from a kind heart and good intentions. No matter how inappropriate.
But. I draw the line at touching. There are so many people who think it is all right to touch me, because I have an obvious disability. As if a wheelchair means PAT ME! I do not wish to be patted by strangers.
I have never found a graceful, pleasant way to correct this sort of behaviour, though. If you come up with one, please let me know.
And yet, here I am, trying to come up with a graceful, pleasant way to ward off an assault. That is what it is - an assault. Perhaps graceful and pleasant is not the way to go.
More thinking required.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anonymous before Susan, I was distressed that you thought this was a Witch Hunt against Christians. The blog was about an experience I had and others are sharing their stories. I would think that the most important thing to do would be to LISTEN to the stories rather than criticize others for having spoken up. This blog is about the disability experience and unfortunately the church and people of faith are not always blameless in how they have seen, understood or treated people with disabilities. Yes, I am Christian, yes I believe that I can be blessed by an experience or another person. But I don't think, and this is the point of the post, that what I got was a 'blessing' but something else more akin to judgement.

UKkath said...

How dare anon bless us all. It is as if our words mean nothing at all.

Penelope said...

The touch is the part that creeps me out the most. If someone were to touch several of my friends like that without warning, chances are the toucher would receive involuntary responses that would possible cause them some level of harm. It's like the people who go to touch pregnant strangers' bellies (this does happen). Say whatever you want and I'll acknowledge or not in the way that makes me the most comfortable, but don't touch me.

As far as the words go, I get more "I'll pray for you to be healed" comments than "God Bless You". Since I can walk a little, in college sometimes I would acquire "miracle cures". I have no idea if the point came across to the person saying it, but the looks on faces were generally priceless and it gave my friends and I some amusement. It was clear, though, that not a single person who saw a "miracle cure" believed they'd actually prayed enough to heal me. Personally, I don't care what your religion is, but don't assume I want or need to be "healed" or blessed.

Wordshurtorheal said...

I didn't sneeze. Funniest thing ever. Once my husband slapped a woman's hand as she came in to touch our 9 month old, who he was holding. As she was coming in she was saying can I pray for him? What the hell is wrong with people? Did I sneeze? Gotta remember this.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Love your sense of humour - I didn't sneeze! thanks for the giggle.

I think this icky touch incident was an instance of "Tiny Tim"ism - layers of pity. I think if she admired your restraint when dealing with the self-absorbed mother she would have said something to that affect. I think it was just pure out and out pity. Probably tinged with some "There but for the grace of God go I "ness.

I have just been handing out Words Hit cards at my college's open house. Ever thought of a Piss on Pity card???

I am not witty enough to think of a response like this at such a time but how about, "And may God forgive you."

I believe you started the post by asking about ranking - the "God bless you" comment goes much higher than the self-absorbed mother - she was just indiscriminately rude to everyone. The older lady though - her ickiness was aimed specifically at you because you have a disability, at least that is the way it appears from your post.

wendy said...

I can't even tell you the number of times I have been accompanying someone with a disability in the community and had someone approach and bless them. The folks I was working with at that time didn't have the skills to respond verbally, though one woman I was accompanying did look at me with a wicked glint in her eye and I knew she was about to burst into giggles. If I saw it coming I would give the person a wide berth and hope they would go away. The worst were the ones who wanted to engage me in their activity..."Oh the poor dear! It's so sad." etc, etc. It has always sat wrong with me just as it would sit wrong with me if a stranger tried to wash the face of someone I was accompanying. It's just weird and creepy and intrusive.

Shan said...

I must admit, I'm getting a 'witch hunt' feeling too. Not from the post, but from the comments.

I do feel that verbalising a blessing, particularly to a complete random stranger, is often about the blesser rather than the blessee. Sort of like saying "I'd like to pray for you." Well, listen...last I read, the Bible was still saying that the best way to go about prayer is "in the closet", alone, rather than standing in front of everybody, raising your arms to heaven for all to see. If I think someone might benefit from prayer, I can pray for them without them even knowing, without looking at them, and certainly without making them uncomfortable.

As to the incident itself, touching strangers is pretty much a no-go whether you are being nice or not. I hated that when I had children (stroller and all), people would occasionally reach out to touch them. But it was VERY occasionally, because when out in public, my look is more formidable than approachable.

Anonymous said...

Wow! There is a lot of fear out there. One misguided soul has really unleashed the hounds.

I thought it was funny that anon of 29th said bless you. Got the dander up.

Remember - it is our individual experiences and filters that determines what is right for us. And what is right for you is not right for everyone.

For me - strangers touching me is yucky. But I have issues. People wishing me well - doesn't bother me at all.

Great discussion Dave.

Beth said...

I can't see the supposed witch hunt, though maybe some think I'm leading it.

Are you familiar with people ending arguments with a passive-aggressive "I'll pray for you..." where the trailing off means "because you are utterly wrong and you obviously need God's grace so much more than I do"? If complaining about that kind of thing isn't a witch hunt, I don't think this is either.

This kind of "God bless you" isn't said by way of thanks. I'm not complaining about thanks or acknowledgement, but about presumption, pity, and patronizing.

If the thought behind these two examples were to be put into secular language, I think the first would come to "I'm right, you're wrong, and I'm better than you". I think the second, at least as I've experienced it, most often comes to "How adorable!" Neither of these would be proper to say, yet they're somehow ok so long as couched in religious terms (as if those terms legitimize it) because many people think it's always good to be prayed for and wished God's blessing. A lot of it comes to tone and context, I guess. "Well you have a nice day" is a pleasant sentiment, right? but not so much when the words are spat out like nails in a tone that could kill. Likewise, "It's nice to see you today" is generally good, but when it's intoned by a stranger in overly-familiar sing-song that drips with pity and condescension, it's patronizing and creepy. Like this is.

Being so "blessed" bothers me even knowing the person lacked malice in the same way it bothers me when anyone forces "help" on me that I don't need or want. "Help" foisted on me tells me, "I know what you need/want even better than you do... and I'm getting points for helping a cripple!". Being "blessed" with that tone and intrusiveness tells me, "Hello, I'm a friendly representative of a culture who thinks you're lesser and it's just amazing people like you are allowed in public now!" Lack of malice doesn't make things right.


My list... I dunno. I think being closely followed (just in case I need help. Because stalking a young woman who can't get away isn't at all creepy) is worse than being touched in a place one might touch an able-bodied person (but are doing so because of disability) is worse than that "bless you" is worse than inappropriate medical questions (because at least then you have time to respond to decidedly remain silent). I think unwanted assistance can vary in what place according to what, exactly, is involved. The second worst interaction with a stranger re: disability was a "helper" I'd refused several times coming over and ripping my wheelchair from my arms as I was loading it in the car, taking my "legs" and hurting my shoulder in one fell swoop. (I had to reposition it anyway, too, because he didn't know what he was doing.) The worst was a stranger grabbing the handles and tipping me backwards in order to say hi with me upside-down. But what was I so upset about, neither of them meant any harm. And yeah, there were people who told me that at the time. That I should have been gracious and understanding, and that they were only trying to be nice, etc. Shall I now lead witch hunts against both helping and saying hi to people with disabilities, dropping all context? (In case any have doubt, yes, I'm being silly with the question.)

Anonymous said...

This is great - I've never heard of anyone saying that "I'll pray for you" is passive aggressive. Goodness - I personaly seek out prayer, as I believe that the more people that approach the throne of grace on my behalf the better.

As to any comments that sound "religious" but may be tinged with judgment - I choose not to in turn judge them but leave it to a "higher court" - to One who knows the hearts of all men.

I agree with someone above - lots of hurts. Wow - why do we do that to each other??

As with any sector of the public, whether doctors, atheletes, plumbers or teachers - there are good ones and not so good ones. With Christianity - it is the same. Everyone here are humans - we may be saved humans - but humans that twist and turn things to suit our situation. We misinterpret scriptures, we act out things from that - and if folks were honest - do things from our own motives and not necessarily what God wants. As said earlier we don't do God justice looking for Him in our fellow man - we indeed will be disappointed.

Beth said...

So I take it you're either unfamiliar with "I'll pray for you..." being used to end an argument while asserting superiority (in this case, in a holier-than-thou way) and, since you don't understand it, taking the words alone or else you really do favor dropping all context when it comes to using religious language even if communicating the same sentiment in non-religious language would be socially unacceptable. I don't understand why any sentiment one wants to express is ok so long as it's couched in religion. I don't understand why it gets that exemption. I'm from the (American) South where you can go on with a string of insults and gossip... and it's ok if and only if you begin or end with "Bless (her/his) heart!" It's practically a Southern tradition. Insults and gossip are sin and wrong, you see... apparently unless there's sufficient heart-blessing. Why, I've no idea.

FWIW, I'm not afraid or hurt. It's just that I tend to take the tone and context as at least as important as the words. And I'm perfectly ok with prayer and blessing being conferred... when they're in the proper context and not being used to hurt or belittle someone. I'm against religious language being used to hurt or belittle someone just as I'm against any language being used that way.

I'm out. If I'm not understood now, I'll never be.

I hope you understood what I meant, Dave. I never meant to start any sort of religious war. I still don't understand why it's been taken that way, why complaining about religious language being used certain ways is apparently being seen as an attack on Christianity as a whole. But I'm sorry it's come to that, even if I'm not sure why. Whatever part I played, I wish I had differently.