Wandering around a mall on a Saturday afternoon, waiting to go to a movie, can be quite instructive. I’ve always been attuned to my environments, a safety strategy that the bullied and the battered learn early, and that became even more true when I became a wheelchair user. So, I pay attention. And because of that I want to paint you three little scenes, all of which happened in the 90 minutes between lunch and the movie, “Anthropoid” for those who want to know.
We were heading to do some back to school shopping for the girls when I saw a man with Down Syndrome walking, with great purpose, through the mall. He clearly had a destination and he clearly wanted to get there.
Hardly worth a comment, except that it is. Nothing will ever change the fact that I come from a time where that would never have been seen, never imagined and therefore never attempted. I come from a time that he’d not be walking with purpose to a destination he wanted to get to, he’d be shuffling down a hallway with habit and boredom yapping at this feet. I still notice this. I still notice freedom. I hope I always do. Because when I see it, I remember its absence and when I remember its absence I am reignited with purpose. Nothing less than this. Nothing less than this.
Later, same mall, a group of young adults, early twenties, are being a bit boisterous with each other. They speak like the young do, with a deep and abiding belief that the rest of us find them fascinating and wish to hear their humour, their bravado and their points of view. At one point one of the group, calls another on the ‘R word.’ Everything stops for a moment. Just stops. “I know, I know, I know, I shouldn’t have said that,” the voice says. After a pause, like a computer resetting, they go on.
Hardly worth a comment, except that it is. The use of the word is unsurprising, but, honestly getting a little more uncommon in my experience. The self correct, thought, that’s well to be noted. No one lectured, they just stopped. Froze. Didn’t continue. The pressure of the group, even unstated, brought the change and what passed for an apology. This to me is social change. I was ready, willing and even eager to have a confrontation, one that would have just changed the group dynamic to repel the intrusion of a stranger, but the group took care of it itself. It had a new norm. And that new norm, though they’d never admit it, comes from our movement. This is our victory.
Almost time for the movie. Joe is paying up in Target and I’m rolling to the theatre. As I do so two young men, boys really, and walking along side each other. They may have been 14 or 15 and they kept bumping into each other, shoulder to shoulder, in a way that caught my attention. It was then that I noticed, that the friendly, manly, jostle of the shoulders, served to distract people from seeing two hands grab briefly at each other. Young love, even in a place where safety isn’t guaranteed, showing itself. I watched them for a few minutes. Smiling.
Hardly worth a comment except that it is. Their fear is justified, I know that because they know that. They know where they are. They know the temperature of the mall. I’m a stranger here. I trust their judgement. However, even in the face of danger they wanted their affection to have a place. To take it’s place. They are remaking this place. Reclaiming this place. And they are just boys. Boys. They are the future. I hope they love each other and love each other well and love each other in safety for a very long time.
I’m in my manual chair. I was so sad to leave the power chair behind. But I’m adapting to the use of this chair, to the work that comes with the wheels and |I’m getting around. There is a benefit of moving a little slower through the world. I doesn’t matter if that’s on wheels or that’s on foot, there is a benefit to confining rush to only where rush is necessary.
\It was Saturday. It wasn’t necessary.