Image description: On a cork board, four red pins are at the corner of a note that has the word Resolutions underlined at the top and then the numbers 1., 2., 3., down the side. Nothing is written beside the numbers.
I usually don’t make New Years resolutions. We all know how quickly these are broken, never thinking of course how quickly they were made. Yesterday at the Royal Ontario museum, at around 10:10, I was waiting just inside the front door for a friend to arrive. and I made a resolution in an instant, it was so quick that I didn’t realize it had slipped by my defences and lodged itself in the previously vacant ‘resolution’ chamber at the back of my mind. By the end of our visit, I had made three. Let me tell you how these came to be.
People were flowing through the door. With school out, the museum is an obvious good choice for a place to go to spend time with kids. The museum has worked hard, and successfully in my opinion, to become kid friendly as was evidenced by a young man in an astronaut costume waving to people as they entered. He was there as part of the “Escape to Planet ROM” promotion for families and their children.
I saw him before the woman pushing his chair. On entering I noticed his disability right off. The wheelchair was a dead giveaway of course, but I also noticed that his disability was significant by the way his body was positioned in the chair and by the way in which he moved. I noticed the woman there supporting him almost immediately after when she came through the doors following right behind, as people who push do, his wheelchair. Her eyes were on the prize and she was heading up to the front towards the main entrance.
I did not see her look at him.
He communicates in unspoken ways.
It was noisy, people were moving in chaotic ways, concentration was necessary so they would not crash into people, but she stopped. Looked down at him, he looked up at her. She said, “OK.”
She turned the wheelchair and rolled over to the fellow dressed as an astronaut who looked terrified as they approached. When they got there she said something to the astronaut something I could not here, but whatever it was did two magical things. First, the young man in the wheelchair burst into a beautiful grin. He clearly thought she had said something very funny. Second, whatever she said brought the astronaut into immediate connection with the young man, the discomfort left him and he spoke, not to her, but directly to the boy, whose eyes managed to answer questions and begin dialogue. She stepped away.
As if she knew this was not her interaction to be part of, but his. As if she knew that this moment did not need her assistance and that her job was simply to wait until she was needed again. The conversation, because of course conversations need two people but not two voices, ended and she came back and they said goodbye to the young fellow in a costume and they headed off.
A resolution simply appeared in my mind. I resolve to be more attentive to the communication that happens around me, to remember that everyone communicates and that all communication needs to be respected. This woman, whoever she was to him, could hear him, even though he didn’t speak, in a crowded room, with noise and distraction everywhere, and when her mind was intent on getting him to the front. Past noise, past distractions, past her own aim, his voice stopped her and directed her and she, in response, listened and was directed. Astonishing. I want to be like that. Like her. She inspired me to be better at respecting people. She inspired the astronaut to see a boy who was very different than him to see the boy, the disability and the possibility of connection. I think he was changed. Her ability supported him in such a way that she made change happen around him. That’s the power of excellence in support.
Our date with our friend was to go see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which Joe and I try to go to every year. It’s, in the vocabulary of my youth, ‘mind blowing’. We made our way through the exhibit stopping and looking carefully at each picture. We talked, we laughed, we swapped stories when inspired by something we’d seen. It was fun. The pictures were, to a one, astonishing. Underneath the photographs was a written explanation of how the photographer got the photograph. This was almost as interesting as the photograph itself. It also reminded you that these shots took time, patience and that photography could be considered an ‘extreme art’.
We had turned a corner and were in the narrowest passageway of the exhibit when Joe noticed that one of the descriptions for one of the photographs included the word ‘wheelchair’. We all stopped and read about Frank Abbot which was under a photograph called Cormorant Cityscape. He says in describing getting the shot, “With a wheelchair full of me and camera equipment, off I went into the salt marsh – the afterglow clock ticking …” The shot was, ironically, in a fairly inaccessible spot, being in a narrowish passageway, and with two of the three of us using mobility devices, me a scooter, our friend a wheelchair, stopping to chat, people had to step around us. We were lucky because no one, throughout the entire exhibit, was impatient with our presence or our means of movement.
I remembered, and recounted, a discussion with some folks from a museum about identity and art and about how an artist’s disability might inform the viewer or, as they suggested, distract a viewer. It was an interesting, and quite friendly, discussion cum debate. In each of the descriptions the rigour required of the photographer added to the understand and enjoyment of the photograph. Mr. Abbott’s inclusion of the word ‘wheelchair’ did exactly the same thing. It added a layer of understanding to the capturing of the image. For those of us with disabilities looking at the picture that understanding would be deeper and more complex than for those without disabilities. Wheelchair … salt marsh … we understand at a visceral level what he did to get that photo. In the same way that people with disabilities understand the words … wheelchair … and … carpet … differently than do non-disabled people. Mr. Abbott made a choice about how he wanted to be represented and his work understood. It was cool choice, a proud choice and it mattered to those of us with disabilities in a really important way.
Now I had two resolutions, me, the guy who had resolved to have none, lodged in my brain. I saw and felt how Mr. Abbott’s choice to be authentic had a powerful impact on me. Choosing authenticity isn’t always a safe choice. Authenticity can make a person really vulnerable. But authenticity is such a cool way to live a life. I struggle daily to be consistently authentic – but I fail. I realized that Mr. Abbott inspired me, not in an insperporn way, but in his choice to identify himself, to be authentic in his representation of his work. I need to do that more, not less as some critics have suggested.
Afterwards we all went for lunch and we talked, as much as we could over the live music that was playing in the dining hall, and we laughed. We eventually went up, said our goodbyes and wished each other a good new years and Joe and I left. We as we walked home we talked about the exhibit and the lunch and the time with our friend (who I haven’t named only because I didn’t realized then that I was going to write this and I didn’t ask her permission). I told Joe that I realized as we went through the exhibit and our friend said something really funny and I laughed really loud, that I don’t laugh enough, that I needed to laugh more next year.
Well, it’s next year.
And I need to laugh more.
A third resolution to join the other two.
Three resolutions in three hours, all unexpected, all, if acheived, will make my life richer. So here’s to success! (I hope.)
I would like to now, thank you, all of you readers, especially you who comment on the posts, for giving me a reason to write this blog. I have written well over 3000 posts and been here for way longer than a blog typically lasts, and it’s all because there is such a nice community of people around this blog – I am honoured that you give me and my words the time that you do. Thank you. And a happy and blessed new year to every one of you.