Image Description: A drawing of a construction tunnel on a sidewalk with the words ‘D’ANGER ZONE’ written in red capital letters inside the space created by construction materials.
We were in one of those construction tunnels. They are hell for me. They make the sidewalk so narrow, and though there is room for me on one side and you on the other, many non-disabled people, for the most part, are terrible at seeing space the same way I do, the same way many disabled people do. They get terrified faces, stop and plaster themselves against the side. None of it is necessary. If they walked normally, we’d pass with no problem. So, when Joe and I are approaching one, he says, go ahead and I’ll meet you on the other side. I enter and go as quickly as I can to get through.
This time, going quickly was not an option. An elderly woman, a very small woman, was walking with a walker. She was very, very, very slow. Slow. She would lift her walker with effort, move it ahead by a half an inch or so and then set it down and take the step. Then, she’d take a breath, and do it all over again. It was labourious and have I said, slow. I understand what it is to be rushed and what it is to be seen as in the way. I am working to become someone who learns from the life I live. It’s interesting that when I listen to life’s lessons almost all of them end with ‘and be a bit more gentle and kind.’ I’m not sure why I need this lesson over and over again, but apparently I do. So I roll behind her, leaving enough space for her not to feel me pressing down on her, and wait for an opportunity to pass.
Oh, and I can pass. Because. There’s. Enough. Room. For. Two. People.
The opportunity to pass comes and I pull out and as I’m passing her I hear her voice call out to me. Not in surprise or terror at my use of space, but for my attention. I turn to her. She looks distraught. I pause. We are now blocking the pathway but, miraculously, at that moment there is she and me an Joe who was catching up to where we were. “I wonder if you could ride behind me until I’m out of this,” at the word ‘this’ she waved her hand around indicating the construction tunnel, “people swarm past me, they frighten me, I’ve nearly been knocked over. I felt safe with you behind me. Would you mind?”
“No,” I said.
She walked a few steps forward, there were people now, lots of them, the light had changed, approaching. I got in behind her. Those behind me were bubbling with frustration, because everyone needs to be everywhere but where they are right now. My being there kept her safe from those coming south because they were misjudging my size and creating more space. Those coming from behind couldn’t get near her, couldn’t flow by her, knock her over, frighten her. It was easy to feel the danger she was in, I felt their anger build up, and for the first time in my life, saw that 90% of danger was made up with anger. Being small. Being slow. And being a woman. I’ve noticed that woman, too, often have to fight to own space.
As I rode behind her I thought about the courage it would take for her to do what she’s doing. She was clearly very aware of the ‘rush’ epidemic that has our nation in its grip. She would obviously know that she would be stepping, slowly, into the middle of a fast moving stream. And even so, she was there. Going where she needed to go, going at the pace which she was able to go, living the life that she had to live, knowing how she’d be seen and the dangers caused by the frustration and self importance of others.
And she was there.
In her community.
We neared the end of the tunnel. She slowly picked her way down the curb cut and suddenly we were out. She looked to me to thank me, I thanked her for her thank you, I no longer brush thank you’s away, they are important words and should be acknowledged not denied. She said that she’d felt safe for the whole rest of the way. I said that I was glad that I was able to make it safe for her. She reached out and touched my shoulder and said something terribly kind to me. The words touched me and made me cry.
We parted at the curb to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. I’d stayed beside her, partly to have our goodbye conversation but also to ensure that she was safely delivered on the other side. People were flowing like an angry river out of the tunnel and were jostling to get by us.
I left enriched.
I carry the gift of her words in my heart.
She may walk slowly, but she is a woman with deep wisdom. She may be seen as a hindrance by those rushing by. They don’t see her. They see a thing in their way. They see something to get by. They see an impediment to their progress. They are wrong. She is, if anything, an amazing opportunity.