Saturday, 29 December 2012

On the Stairs at Massey Hall

Is everyone enjoying their holiday season? :)

It's been a busy time around here. I celebrated Christmas with my family at my sister's house, as always, she and her husband blew my mind with how gracious they were as hosts, despite the fact that they were dealing with a toddler and a sick dog. I also went with my father and my uncle to a "Messiah Sing-A-Long" in Toronto's Massey Hall on December 23.

My "Singing Debut" at Massey Hall

The Sing-A-Long is an opportunity for people who love Handel's classical work "Messiah", generally sung at Christmas, to get together and sing it in a professional venue (sitting in the audience) along with with a professional choir and orchestra (on the stage). If you don't think you've ever heard anything from "Messiah", I can practically guarantee that you've heard the Hallelujah Chorus, which I heard on a commercial about an hour ago.

Anyway, I sang in a choir that did "Messiah" (longer ago than I care to think about and at a local church, not Massey Hall) and I love the music, so I went with Dad and my uncle to the Massey Hall Sing-a-Long. I did not sing. It's been so long since I sang that there's no way I could hit the notes that the sopranos need to. Next year I'll work myself up to it. Not the point of my story anyway.

Getting to the Balcony at Massey Hall

The point is that Massey Hall, which is over 100 years old, doesn't have an elevator up to the balcony where our seats were. This meant going up several full flights of stairs. Not normally a big deal. I am a bit slower on stairs, and my uncle did feel compelled to stand beside me as I was going upstairs to keep the crowd going past me too quickly (the seats were general admission and people were really rushing at that point), but I could see once we sat down that there were people who'd likely had a far harder time than I did getting up the stairs to the Massey Hall balcony

However, going down the stairs at the end of the performance, we got separated, and I was going downstairs by myself for a short time. Going downstairs I'm even more careful. If I go down stairs like a "normal" person,  I have to "prompt" my weak leg on when to bend and when to stop bending.  I've really just started to work on this. Up until now I've going down steps the way I learned in rehab: I put my strong foot down on the step, then my weak foot  beside it. I don't know whether it was just this process that made the gentleman fall in a couple of steps below me, or whether it was my cane, or whether he could see me wincing slightly because I'd been wearing my brace for over eight hours and my foot was sore. But he quickly let me know that he was walking in front of me in case I lost my balance.

I've heard so many stories from disabled people about how rudely they're treated in public. I've been been fortunate enough to have encountered it so infrequently that I really can't think of the last time it happened. People have always been very gracious about offering me a seat on a crowded a bus, or an arm when it looks slippery (which can be up to half the year where I live). I've had a couple of seizures on public where I've woken up in the hospital with no idea how I got there, and been told that strangers on the scene called an ambulance and made sure that I got into it okay. It may seem strange to be impressed by that, but there is a psychological phenomenon called bystander effect that predicts that the larger the crowd around a person a crisis, the less likely any one person is to do something about it.

So I've been very lucky. The odd time that I've been treated in a way that's made me annoyed when I've been out in public, it's been because someone's been *too* anxious to help and:

  • Has touched me without my permission

  • Is hurting me without realizing it

  • Has, in the insistence on helping, inadvertently put himself or herself in danger

The third thing happened that day in Massey Hall. As nice as this gentleman was to stand in front me, his offer made me nervous because I weigh more than I look like I do. I was concerned that if I had fallen on him from a few stairs up, I could have knocked him down and hurt him as well. I told him that I really didn't want to fall on him if I lost my footing, but he said, "That's okay, we're done for that day."

What else can I do?

It's not that I don't appreciate the sentiment or concern, when you make gestures like this, folks, but it really does put me in an awkward position.  I wasn't particularly annoyed that day, as it was so close to Christmas and I was in a good mood. But it sure would have put a damper on the holiday spirit for some people if I'd fallen and needlessly injured a well-meaning individual on the stairs at Massey Hall.

The best way to find out whether a disabled person needs help, and the best way to find out how you can help, is to just ask.

See you in 2013!

By the way, if you're in or near Toronto and looking for a new Christmas tradition, the Messiah Sing-a-Long at Massey Hall will be in its 27th year next December!  Even if you don't sing...hearing 2700 people singing the Hallelujah Chorus is an incredible experience.

The promotional site for this year's Sing-a-Long at Massey Hall (with Handel himself conducting):

The Hallelujah Chorus (abridged) from another Sing-a-Long in the Toronto area last Christmas:

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