We parked and I got into my chair and zipped off to the store. As I anticipated, I enjoyed the push, enjoyed the crispness in the air, and the feeling of my arms and shoulders working. It took Joe a second to catch up with me, my chair is fast, and we began shopping together. We are not overly demonstrative, or demonstrative at all, in public. We leave that to the young, we came to adulthood in a different era. But I have noticed that people notice our relationship because of how we are with each other, how we talk about what we are buying and what we are planning for supper and that kind of ordinary couple kind of talk. That gets noticed. A lot. I don’t care.
But that’s not what this is about.
Sometimes Joe and I separate to do separate things, like yesterday. Joe went through the till and I went to the ticket checker to see if we’d won millions on our lottery tickets. We didn’t. While I was checking the tickets a woman, my age, approached me and said that she’d noticed we’d parked far away and not in the disabled spots. I told her that they were full. She said that there were a lot of spots closer and I told her that I’d wanted a bit of exercise. I found myself once again in a discussion about life as a disabled person. She really had no cause to ask me questions about where we parked and why and I had no obligation to answer, but I get caught, I don’t always notice when boundaries are being crossed.
But that’s not what this is about.
So I told her that I wanted the exercise and that’s why we parked there. I can still see her putting her forefinger against her lips to indicate that she was thinking and then she said, “I’ve often thought that disabled parking just makes them lazy, you know, disabled people.”
She ‘often thought’ … ‘often thought’ … she thinks about disabled people and our parking. Why on earth would that be something she was concerned about? Why did she think her opinion about it mattered? Why would she waste any of the time she has on earth thinking about disabled parking?
She approached me because she had noticed where I parked. Why would she look at me and think about parking? Why is my life under scrutiny and set up for the opinions of others? Why would she think that my reasons for parking there were anything more than my reasons?
“Makes them lazy” … who is ‘them’ am ‘I’ ‘them’? Aren’t disabled people a widely divergent group of people with different lives and different goals and different ways of being disabled? Lazy? Lazy? What on earth? I push my chair with the small muscles of the arms and you walk around using the large muscles of the legs, you’re lazy! My ability to push myself has nothing to do with another person’s need for parking closely. I usually park in the disabled spots, but today I was good with parking far away. I’m not always up for that push. Disabled people get called ‘lazy’ all the time by people who have no sense of the high cost of disability, financially, socially and physically.
She walked away with her ears full of about 3 minutes of disability awareness. The startle on her face when she discovered that I was not complimented by her statement, being one of the un-lazy ones, but offended by her classification of disabled people and her assumption that we are all exactly the same was priceless.
I can feel the yesterdays push in my shoulders this morning and its a good feeling. It feels like health. It feels like life is calling me back to business. My own disabled life, different from every other disabled life, if I learned anything from that encounter it was to always recognize that I write only of my experience, and hope people relate, I speak only of my experience, and hope people understand, though each of us is seen as ‘the voice’ none of us are. We are we but we are also not we. Does that make sense?