Persons with Disabilites (pt 1), by Cathy Grant

We had just finished showing our video, the one narrating our “cultural story”, and we explained the context of it. It was our story, that of all political refugees, from any country, from any kind of political persecution. Elana had told some of our personal circumstances, centering on the difficulties of rediscovering normality, the problems of learning to enjoy life again without feeling guilty. We noticed that again, as always before, the story had made a deep impact and the participants were wrestling to react, not knowing exactly what to do, but certainly searching in their own lives, for circumstances approaching what they had just seen and felt. Two of the participants told us that they had lived in several places in Canada, having had to encounter the difficulties of new beginnings in their own lives and recognizing commonalties with what they had just heard.

Then Cathy began to speak but did not want to be taped. She wanted to explain how the passage in the video that says “nobody wants to know your story, they only ask you formal question,” resonated with the story of her whole life. A member of the co-op’s Board, she made it to the home where the meeting was taking place in her electric wheelchair. From the very beginning we all felt clumsy, trying to accommodate her in the living room trying to find her a position where she could see and hear well. The wheels got stuck in the carpet several times. The chair appeared extremely heavy and bulky. To get her close to the window, so that she would not feel too hot, involved several moves – our efforts to push conflicting with the electronic commands Cathy gave the chair by pressing buttons. We did not know anything about her but we had seen the stream of sympathy that moved the other participants to make her feel welcome and at ease. Then, a veritable cascade of pain began to flow out of her initially carefully chosen words, pronounced in her voice, which wrestled to be understood with every word.

“Nobody wants to hear your story, they just ask you formal questions”, she said, telling how people could not relate to her, how hard it was for everybody to just listen to her. She explained her feelings of powerlessness when people rushed to shut her down, whenever she attempted to disclose something about her life. How people rush to comfort her with shallow words, emphasizing, perhaps with the best intentions, how “fortunate she was having appropriate caretakers, living in a nice co-op, having a whole system of support for people like her.” “But nobody can understand that it is not my surroundings that trouble me the most. It does not matter what the circumstances of my environment may be, it is me that is the problem, this pain in my soul, in my heart. It is this body in which I find myself trapped, this wheelchair without which I cannot move. It is me that is the problem, it is me that I cannot stand any more, living every minute of my life wondering how is it that I made it through the previous minute. It is the horror that I feel realizing that I am a mirror in which people do not want to see themselves, I see them walking away, feeling sorry or guilty, but without knowing what to make of their encounters with me.” Please contact me to let me know what you think of my writing at the following e-mail address: cgrant@aebc.com