Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Disabilities and Pity

"Disabilities" and "pity" do not play well together.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I grew up in a very small community, and my father still lives there. Because he held a high-profile job for many years before he retired, and my mother taught, and the entire family was active in our church and community, we were fairly well-known. So it got around quickly when I returned to Ontario after having my first stroke that something weird had happened in my family. My father called me from work the first day I was home.

“Just checking that you’re still there,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t I be here?” I said, wary.

“Because since I’ve come into work I’ve heard that you’re still in the hospital in BC, that you’re dead in BC, that you died in your own arms on the way back to Ontario…I just didn’t know what to think.”

“The dog can confirm that I’m here, if you like.”

“That’s fine, I believe you.”

The same sort of thing happened after my surgery, when word got around that I’d had another, more serious stoke and now had some fairly serious disabilities. People drove the couple of hours to visit me, only to have me fall asleep after half an hour. Dad would often say during a visit, “So-and-so from xxxxx church wants to put you on their prayer chain, and I said I’d ask if that was okay with you.”

I’d not been a Christian for a couple of years at that point, but figured I could use all the help I could get. “Sure.  Please thank them for me.”

When I finally returned home from Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre in December, 2000,  I was walking with a cane for short distances but still relying a lot on my wheelchair. I was avoiding my inevitable debut in the chair in my town, though, and at the time I wasn’t sure why. I used the chair on field trips in rehab all the time and it didn’t bother me a bit. It really didn’t even bother me to use it when I joined the *very* early morning walking club that did rounds of the school before any students or teachers got there; Dad rolled me in from the car, over the snow and ice in the parking lot, I walked my quarter-mile and collapsed into it, and he rolled me back out to the car. No big deal.

One day, however, in a city mall in a city a couple of hours away city with Dad and Rachel, we ran into a family that lived not that far away from us. I *now* knew the source of my reluctance about using the chair in my town.

The looks of pity in their eyes made me want to throw up.

Disabilities and Pity

They were trying to be positive and tell me how great I looked, but their eyes gave them away. I couldn’t wait to get away from them. When it looked like they intended to draw the conversation out, I asked Rachel if she could go with me to the washroom, and I ranted to her in there about “pity eyes”.

I’ve never used the chair in my town again, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I could manage excursions to a mall without it. I think that day marked the true beginning of my determination not just to regain enough function  to manage, but to become as functional as possible. My mom’s stubbornness really set in.

Don’t tell me I can’t do something because of my disabilities, because I’ll try all the harder, just to prove that I can.

Don’t assume that because something’s out of reach because of my disabilities, I won’t try, just to see how far I can get. Failure doesn’t scare me as much as it used to.

Don’t pity me. I’m pretty content, all things considered.

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