2014-12-05 Posted By Jenna
When you’ve had a condition for as long as I have, you really don’t know any other way to approach different tasks than the way you do them. Cooking, cleaning (my mom’s laughing right now because I rarely do either one), driving etc. - it’s just business as usual. You can even find yourself forgetting that to the outside world, the way you do something (even mundane) can totally blow people’s minds!
Case in point - Driving. Actually, not even driving, just getting myself and my chair into the car independently. This, apparently, is a sight to see. I’m not surprised, it took me a while to refine this process, after all (see blog post “Mission: FREEDOM (finally…)”).
So, imagine this:
I’ve just come out of a gas station (when you need a slushy, you NEED a slushy), and I see a pretty awesome car parked next to mine. I make a point of noticing it because I want to make sure I don’t ding it putting my chair into the car. And, of course, if the pressure isn’t already on, I see the driver come out of the gas station, standing and staring at me as I start taking my chair apart. Oy! So, more carefully than usual, I take the wheels off my wheelchair, recline the driver’s seat, lift the body of my wheelchair over me and into the passenger’s seat, and throw the wheels into the backseat. Badda bing, badda boom!
But, even though this guy’s car is out of danger of my little circus act, he’s still staring. I finally realize that his car isn't his main focus (though I’m pretty sure it would’ve been if my footplate had nicked it). No, right now his attention is held on something completely different. I start feeling uncomfortable as his gaze doesn’t leave me, so I start preparing myself to get out of there when he starts approaching me, coming right up to me (my door still open). My Karate reflexes are primed and ready because he’s a little too close for comfort, when he reaches his hand out to shake mine.
I hesitantly shake his hand (this isn’t my weirdest encounter with a stranger) and then begins to thank me. Why? He thanks me because: being able to watch me dismantle my chair independently, get it into my car and (for all he knows) then be able to drive off - it all changed his entire perspective of what he thought people in wheelchairs could do. And although I’m slightly frustrated that this kind of conversation still happens in 2014, I’m also touched by his sincerity and authenticity. I know that he is going to look at life and the people around him differently from now on (for the better).
And all of this happened doing something I could do in my sleep!
It’s hard when we think we still have so far to go to show the world what we can do, to be treated as equals. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to get our message across. But then we find out that all it takes (some times) is a little role-modeling - not shoving information or grand gestures down people’s throats. This gives people the opportunity to be ready to receive the message in a meaningful and personal way.
I’m not going to pretend that this route isn’t frustrating, but think about having what might seem like a foreign idea forced onto you vs. being able to recognize its significance on your own - how would you prefer to “get it?” This doesn’t mean letting yourself or someone you love be demeaned, patronized or disrespected. It means, when people aren’t ready to be blown away by what you have to offer the world, remember, “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”