While I have plenty to say about my minor difficulties as a disabled person with parking spaces, being stepped on in crowds, and dehumanized at airports, I’d like to mention a super nice interaction I had with a woman at the grocery store the other day. I had stopped off on my way to work and walked from my car into Trader Joe’s with two canes. Someone else was using the motorized scooter, so I sat on a ledge and waited. My options were:
* wait for the scooter user to be done
* just leave and go to work without lunch
* walk to the back of the store to get my salad and fruit and back and wait in line standing up
* go back to my car and get out my wheelchair and wheel through the store to shop
I am lucky to have that variety of options, obviously!
Walking means pain in my knees and back and leg, and exhaustion, but getting out the wheelchair is also tiring as well as being hard on my hands which lately are in a lot of pain too. So I figured I’d sit for a minute or two and if the scooter user was taking too much time, I’d leave and go to work. Both walking the length of the store and getting out the chair once I was already in the store weren’t worth it. “It” being the price of arriving at work at 9am already wishing to go back home to bed and take painkiller and cry.
As I sat there a nearby checkout clerk, a lady maybe 60 years old, came over to ask me if I was waiting for the scooter. I said I was and didn’t mind waiting and was fine. But she offered to get me the groceries I wanted. “You can just tell me a list, or I can write it down.” The store wasn’t busy, and it would be no trouble for her to do. I was incredulous. While all that was true, her fundamental niceness in bothering to notice I was in (minor) difficulty that she could easily alleviate — well it amazed me. That almost never happens, even with friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.
I’m not shy about asking for help, though I don’t much like doing it. The thing is, I already have to ask for help enough. And I enjoy being able to do things. I’ve had enough moments of having to ration out my requests for help into asking for water, food, and help to get to the bathroom. Now I’m up and around and don’t have to do that. But… If it isn’t crucial, I don’t want to ask. I would rather be a little frustrated and continue to feel independent. Both because I don’t want to try the patience of able bodied people around me, as if they are a bank or participants in a zero-sum game, and I shouldn’t *use them up*. Even if I won’t need anything major from a clerk in the grocery store, a stranger, or a friend, I think of them as a resource with finite patience and attention not only for me but for whoever the next person who asks for help might be. The other component is certainly my pride. Am I going to ask a nearby stranger or a barista to bring my coffee to a cafe table when I’m on two crutches and can’t carry it? That depends on a complicated internal equation of pain, ability, and pride. I can usually manage it okay on one cane or none, but sometimes “can do it” is tangled with “will hurt, unnecessarily”. I understand on many levels that “independence” is a lie for all of us – for all people. None of us are independent. Dependence, and help, and asking; everyone has to do that, whatever the style of it and whether it is backed with money (as it is every time you pay someone to do something for you.) But I fight it hard on little things sometimes. It’s complicated and weird and I process it internally, a lot. Even when I ask for help, I have a hard time accepting the help. I prickle up like a cactus. I don’t want to be in any situational pattern where someone has power over me.
With that sort of thinking as my background, I said yes with some embarrassment and diffidence to the nice Trader Joe’s clerk. I was actually kind of stunned and going “Are you sure? That’s okay? Because it’s okay really.” She was determined to help out and not gross or weird about it. I asked her for a salad and some packets of dried seaweed. If it had been a whole grocery store list, I just wouldn’t have been able to ask it of her even with her kind offer.
She got me my lunch, rang it all up, and brought the bag out to the car for me. Outside she said that her brother had polio so she understood it might be hard to walk across the store. She looked at my wheelchair there in the front seat and asked if I was going to work. She assumed I had a job… she didn’t act like it was weird I had a car. All very rare. She must be a good ally to her brother.
Disability aside, people are usually a bit extra judgey because I’m a little scruffy and have purple hair so they assume I am kind of a privileged brat (and they’re right on that count) and/or some kind of drug addict teenager (I’m 41, and not, but even if I were, would still be disabled and in need of help sometimes) and thus not worthy or deserving of help.
I drove to work actually crying… I know, first world moments and all… A bit ridiculous.
I was driving away wishing that as that lady in the Trader Joe’s gets older that other people are as considerate of her in small unnecessary moments as of course I also hope they are in the larger and necessary ones in her life. Since I have no way to guarantee that, I guess I’ll always try to get into her line at the store and say hello, will look at her nametag, and will figure out how to contact the store management to say an anonymous thank you.