We were directly behind them in line. It was busy in the supermarket so the line ups were long and the waits seemed longer. At first we thought he was on his own because he was standing with his cart, by himself, staring into his phone. But about five minutes later his wife arrived. She used a walker and in the walker’s basket she had tucked away some other groceries which she put into the cart, he didn’t look up when she arrived, didn’t acknowledge her in any way. After she was done, she turned her walker and sat down. She was clearly tired.
When the line moved, he quickly moved the cart ahead. We had to wait as she got up, steadied herself at the walker and then moved up to join her husband. He looked at us with a pained expression, then looked to her, and back to us, and rolled his eyes. Then, he went back to his phone. He had still not spoken to her. I was shocked that he rolled his eyes about her to me. I’m sitting in a damn wheelchair and somehow he wanted me to share in his tiresome gift of patience for his wife’s slow movements.
The was a kerfuffle at the counter and the wait drew on. She, seated again in her walker, attempted to talk to him, to engage him in conversation. He, still looking at his phone, put his finger up to indicate, “just a minute” but really it meant “shut up and leave me alone.” She was mortified and humiliated by his behaviour. She knew we had seen and tried desperately not to look at us. She started to mumble under her breath cursing her “G-d damned disability.”
He did finally speak to her, only to tell her that she was in our way, he spoke sharply. I sharply responded that she wasn’t in our way at all. He looked at me and then her and then smiled and shook his head.
I’d seen her before and she has always been friendly. When I arrived she was doing what she was doing on her own, listening to music through ear pods. I noticed another fellow there, about her age, which was also about my age. He too was doing what he was doing, plugged in to music. She then moved to another activity and he, when she walked by her, gave her a thumbs up and a smile. It’s a place where people encourage people so that wasn’t unusual.
A few minutes later, she was having trouble with the machine she wanted to use, and he got up and walked over to her, smiled and helped out. I couldn’t hear what was said but they were both laughing. He was a handsome, and very fit, man, grey on the sides and a ready smile. She was a pretty, fat woman, freshly blond who also had a ready smile. They both, at different times, helped me out when it was needed.
During the time we shared space they went back and forth to each other, him encouraging her, she kissing him in thanks. It was lovely to see the interaction. Others in the area, were quite dismissive of her, her weight being a problem for them. They do that less with me because my disability makes me inspirational and that’s the story they seem as a group to want to tell.
Thinking About It:
Both with wives who have differences.
I’ll bet you feel very differently about the two men. I’ll bet you have made judgments about how they treated their wives, I know I did. Let’s look at what they did.
One did all he could to communicate the burden his wife was, the fact that he saw her as barely human was also clearly expressed. He is educating the public, or rather confirming the bias, about disabled people as spouses. We destroy the lives of those around us, we suck the joy out of the air, we just selfishly refuse to die to remove our inconvenient selves.
The other, with no effort at all, because it takes much more effort to communicate displeasure than pleasure, let everyone know that he was proud of, and that he loved his wife. Fat or no, other’s opinions or no, he loved his wife. He too was educating the public, or rather he challenged stereotypes, and with a simple loving gesture he put paid to ignorance.
It is so easy to see how the men behaved and to recognize how one hurt while the other helped. It’s easy. But do you apply the same standards to yourself?
What if these people were Direct Support Professionals out with someone they say that they serve. One on a cell phone, one burdened by tasks they are paid for, one letting people know, that even when salaried, disabled people are nearly not worth the trouble. The other attentive and helpful and encouraging and communicating respect and care, with every action communicating that difference is just difference and that difference doesn’t preclude respect.
I wonder if DSP’s realize sometime that every time they go out in support of someone with a disability they are educating the public about the worth and value of the people they serve. An ‘outing’ is never simply an ‘outing’ … it’s much more than that, it’s where you begin to fulfil the mission of every agency who serves people with disabilities, that of creating a world where people with disabilities are valued and respected.
Every time you go out, you change the world, for better or worse, you change the world.
It’s that big.