Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Still Crazy after All These Years"

My favorite cartoon.

"Yesterday we had a garden party," Maria wrote, "and I invited one of my clients, John, who is also becoming my friend as well. He sits in a $25,000 wheelchair, one he has used for 10 years."

Maria went on to tell me that another guest, a woman, approached John and asked, "How long have you been in the chair?"

"Oh, about a decade," John replied.

"Can you walk?"

"No," John said. "But I don't think about it. This is my life."

Maria wrote me, "I was so embarrassed by her question. This might be one to add to your dumb-ass disability stories."

Those of us who cruise around boob-high in the world have this sort of thing happen regularly. I hear it most often when, for example, I go to a doctor or dentist, or perhaps to a theater where I'm asked if I'd like to transfer to house seating.

Like John, I try brush it off, but my distorted view of the world demands that I use humor "I brought my own chair, Do I get a discount?"

Irony -- gentle sarcasm? -- can teach better than anger.

Then, of course, there is The Big One: the question of "Why?"

Ride around long enough and complete strangers will approach you with, "Why are you in that wheelchair?"

I suppose it is a query brought on by the perception of "otherness," only slightly different in degrees of boorishness than, for example, asking "How much did you pay for that dress?" or noting out loud "You need to lose some weight."

Depending on my mood -- and my sense of the motive of the questioner-- I ignore the question or engage in a bit of straight-faced surrealism. "It is a condition of my parole for my fifth jaywalking conviction."

I told my friend Maria the only dumb-ass comment that seems unanswerable is "I'd rather be dead than have to use a wheelchair."

I've never been able to understand whether that's meant as a positive comment on my endurance or a negative comment on my psychological stability.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

I'm always curious about people and what led them to their current place in the world. And I admit that I wonder what has brought a person to depend upon a wheelchair. As you know my husband and I are new to the world of wheelchairs and assistance for basic maneuvers so we're seeing some of tha boorish behavior. Stupid questions. Yet, I remember my own interest in people, in understanding, and unless we're approached with anger or distaste, we welcome interest because in our case, the more people who know Derrol's story, the more perhaps we can encourage to donate money and find a cure for ALS.

Perhaps it helped that I grew up with a grandmother who sat in a wheelchair day after day and she and the wheelchair were 'grandma.' And as a kid I thought she was 'lucky.' Derrol grew up with a younger brother who had ALS and he watched his body waste away until his brother died at 18 -- the wheelchair questions are spit in the wind when faced with an incurable disease.

The guy who said he'd rather die -- just tell him "Death isn't an option."