I mentioned in my last post that I injured my leg. I actually tore a calf muscle, which was quite painful. I am on the mend, but the experience has offered me a fresh perspective.
At first, I was on crutches and barely left the house. Then I was upgraded to a cane, which meant I could do my own shopping and attend a couple social events. I was very excited about this prospect. But using a cane in public has opened my eyes to how persons with disabilities can be treated.
I readily admit that I walk at a snail's pace and have a limp at the moment. But it is hurtful and frustrating when people walking behind me huff or cough (as if that will make me walk faster) or push past me. At the same time, as a writer, I am fascinated by their lack of sympathy and sometimes outright aversion.
We have had a bit of a heat wave in Victoria this week, and my physiotherapist suggested I do some resistance exercises at the pool. I limped my way to the recreation centre and suited up. As I was standing at the edge of the pool, a man approached me with a big smile on his face. Until I started walking towards him. He quickly turned away, the smile replaced by disdain. As if I had somehow tricked him.
There was a part of me that shrunk a little bit from that behaviour, but my curiosity got the better of me (this is research, I told myself). After my exercises, I went over to the hot tub and chose a spot in between two groups of people, rather than the side of the tub that was empty. One group assiduously avoided eye contact. The other left within seconds of my arrival.
I started to think about people with visible disabilities who deal with these situations daily. And I remembered being a pre-teen who didn't want to play with my neighbour's daughter, a grown woman with physical limitations and the mental capacity of a small child. Back then, I acted as if her condition was somehow contagious or would taint me in the eyes of others. What I never considered but buried deep in my psyche was the joy on her face when she was invited (by the adults) to play with us. How we had the power to make her happy with something as simple as a ball toss.
This insight will work its way into my next book, and I'm grateful to be able to understand better the hurt we can cause others through ignorance and insensitivity.