Thursday, December 05, 2013

And I Didn't Even Sneeze

I was holding the door open for an elderly woman who was having difficulty catching her breath after walking up the ramp towards the entrance. I was not in a rush, and even if I was, it only took a few seconds of waiting. She came through the door, looked at me and smiled. She thanked me, made a joke about what a 'gentleman' I was and then said, with meaning, "May God Bless You." I thanked her for her blessing. It was a nice moment between strangers. I believe she meant what she said, that she wished blessings upon me. I believe she meant it in the kindest possible way. And. Frankly. I liked it.

I do not always, as a disabled person, have an easy relationship with being 'blessed' by others. Only a bare couple of weeks ago, here in Toronto, (Toronto!) I was stopped by someone who wanted to pray for me, wanted to ask God to Bless me, wanted that blessing to heal me. I felt insulted. I felt violated. I felt belittled and devalued. I was not rude to the person who wanted to foist her blessings on me, I simply said that I was good with what God made. When she began to protest that God wouldn't have made ... I hushed her and told her that if she finished her sentence I would no longer react with patience and calm. She looked surprised! She hadn't seemed to notice that I was restraining myself in my dealings with her.

I believe that, in many ways, my life has been blessed.

I believe that, in many ways, my life continues to be blessed.

When the elderly woman at the door offered God's blessing, she did so as a means of offering me something important, something that would enrich my life. She offered it to me out of kindness and generosity and a sincere reaction to me as a fellow human being.

When the other woman offered me blessings it came from a very different place. Similar words completely different intent. This was not an act of generosity but an act of aggression. It was not an act born out of kindness but out of prejudice. She was wanting to use God's blessing to scrub the stain of disability off my soul. Um, no thanks.

Having a disability means figuring out, in many interactions, who you are to the person you are speaking to. Am I a fellow human? Am I less than human? Am I more than human?

After all that, trust me when I say, I hope you all have a blessed day - a day where you get to just be human, without guesswork, in every interaction you have.


wendy said...

Oh Dave...people are unbelievable sometimes, aren't they?

You have a blessed day too!

wendy said...

Oh...and I LOVE the new background you've chosen for the blog!

Jo Kelly said...

I'm with Wendy - very nice background for December!

I am usually quite insulted when this happens to me. My son grew up playing soccer with a group of kids who primarily came from the Christian school in our neighbourhood. Very nice people for the most part but many of the parnets approached me with a "let us fix you" attitude. I spent many soccer games trying to make these people understand how disparaging that was to me. Very frustrating. When it happens the way it happened for you with this woman, I usually just smile and carry on my way. You are correct in your analysis that it can come from different places and have different meanings.

Anonymous said...

I look at that God knows the heart of all men, and we must be careful not to judge. Then we are guilty of what we perceive the person is doing. Take the blessing. Let the judgement come from God. It is God giving the blessing not them, take them out of the equation. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Mary said...

I come at it both as a disabled person, and as an atheist (I don't like religion, although I do not wish to offend a person of faith nor seek to shake their beliefs).

The first encounter you describe, I would probably respond in exactly the same way you did. It is a person expressing appreciation for the actions of another person, in a way that fits her particular social and cultural framework. It is the phrase she most readily associates with feelings of gratitude and warm, kind wishes to another person. No problem.

The second encounter, I have the same problem as you do with the attitude of "you are broken and need fixing, God doesn't want you to be like that." It starts with Othering, with classifying a disabled person as needy and inferior.

But then I also have the problem of someone's religion being pushed into my face. If she wishes to pray for anyone that's her own affair, quite literally between her and her god. Why is she bringing me into it? Why is she pursuing it after being politely told No? If she's asking (truly asking and thus listening to the answer before acting) for my permission or participation, that means being prepared to respect No for an answer, first time. If she's asking for gratitude or validation, then her motives are as undesirable as her disablist attitude.

That her religion (flinch) is being pushed on me (flinch) because of her disablist attitude (flinch) amplifies my distaste for all three in a big spiral.