Stupid comments and positive outcomes

Recent conversation outside my local coffee shop. I’m sitting and chatting with my friend when a woman in her mid 40s, slightly disheveled but generally pretty normal looking, walks out of the café, stops in her tracks about ten feet away and addresses me:

 

Woman: Are you really in a wheelchair? Do you actually need it?

Me: Excuse me?

W: I’m just wondering if you’re actually paralyzed and if you need the chair or if you’re just using it, because…well…you know.

M: Um…do you really think I’d be in this damn wheelchair if I didn’t need to?

W: Well it’s just that you’re sitting with your legs sprawled open and you don’t look like you need to use that chair, so I’m wondering if you’re actually paralyzed.

M: Do you make it a habit of asking strangers such personal questions about their conditions?

W: Well, I know people who are actually paralyzed are usually very open about talking about these things and you just don’t look like you actually need a wheelchair. So, are you or not?

M: This conversation is over.

W: Well! I guess that answers that then, doesn’t it?!

M: You need to leave now lady.

 

She storms off, leaving me to wonder why she’s the one who’s agitated and exasperated.

***

In the time since my spinal cord injury, I have rarely, if ever, had any negative or insulting interactions with strangers in public. Initially, the fear of such an interaction terrified me. I was fearful of going anywhere in public, I was anxious about the looks I would get, the expressions of curiosity and bewilderment I would inevitably see on people’s revealing faces as they walked by me in the street, towering two feet above me.

But time and time again, I’ve been proven wrong. Ninety-eight percent of the time, I’m treated with civility, genuine greetings, and offers to hold the door open or move a chair out of the way to let me through. Of course, every single concession or accommodation that people make for me adds to my immense frustration at not yet being able to move freely on my feet, at eye level, where I want to be. Frustration aside, other than some confused, staring children who often don’t seem to know what to make of a guy in a wheelchair, I’ve become accustomed to cordiality and respect in public.

For that reason, I suppose I was due for a strange and unsettling interaction like this one.

I still hate everything about the wheelchair with the same passion and vitriol that I’ve had since day one. So naturally, I really dislike anyone noticing it or pointing something out about it. I continue to pray and hope for the day when it is a thing of the past and I won’t have to have this unwelcome companion with me at all times. That said, I’m not clueless, I realize that a society full of people who are upright and then a person who’s sitting down, rolling by is going to be noticed, but maybe because of the general progressiveness and open minded mentality of the people where I live, I don’t often have to worry about feeling too noticed for standing out, but of course this time it was different.

If the inappropriate and nosy questioning didn’t prove the nuttiness of this strange and sad woman, then my ensuing conversation with the cafe worker did. He came out, apologized for her behavior and said that she had ruffled some feathers with him as well when she purchased a pastry, ate some of it, complained about its price yet refused a refund, then continued to eat almost the entire pastry before returning to the counter and demanding a refund, which she was politely given. The point was proven: this person didn’t know how to interact with society and in the span of two minutes had angered a handful of people.

As she walked away, my friend (who has been a tremendous source of support and encouragement for me since my injury), instantly knew that I was on the verge of getting upset and deftly changed the course of my emotions. He told me that as crazy and weird as she had been, she was 100% right about one thing: I don’t look like I belong in a wheelchair. He said that he’s been noticing it for quite some time, that my overall health, confidence and increased strength make me look less and less like the vulnerable and weak person that I was not too long ago, and more and more like someone who’s about to jump out of the chair and start running down the street. He pointed out that I was sitting so unusually in the chair, scooted forward on the cushion with my feet on the ground and my legs comfortably spread apart, and the lady just didn’t know what to make of it.

I’m grateful for my friend for helping me take an awkward and potentially frustrating public interaction and treat it as a positive occurrence. In fact, within seconds of Mrs. Nuttipants’ departure, likely to annoy another self-respecting citizen or two, I had forgotten about the entire thing. I realize that had this conversation happened a year ago, I might have had a very different reaction but this time, I got the last laugh.

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25 thoughts on “Stupid comments and positive outcomes

  1. I love the image; Ms Nuttipants, with a pastry partially stuffed in her mouth as she seeks her next victim for verbal attack, a whirlwind disheveled Pig Pen (Charles Schulz) type character image comes to mind.

    Well done on getting your laugh. That was the appropriate response. Thanks for sharing the bizarre tale. Carey & Perry send their best.

  2. Dear Arash,

    Outrageous!!! The ignorance of people like her and the assumptions they make is appalling!! Unfortunately she will continue to believe her lies to herself since she equates her opinion with reality. I am sorry you had to listen to her rant and applaud your strength to end the conversation.

    I am glad your friend was there as a witness and to offer a chance to talk about it. 98% of all the people you meet are with you and we can ignore the 2%.

    Your grandmother is present all the time in your every being and you did her proud.

    love, linda

  3. Oh my! Some people don’t have a grain of consideration about them. I remember being in a store and hearing a music box playing the same tune that my beloved childhood music box played. I went up to her with a big smile and said “that’s the same tune as my childhood music box!” and she was SO nasty and mean to me that I nearly burst in to tears. She went missing recently so I wondered if she had just pissed someone off so much that they topped her. Your friend did a fantastic job of changing your mood – and I am sure that friend is right!

    There are always going to be some coo coos in the world and, despite the fact that they may or may not be mentally challenged, my day is a better one when I don’t encounter them!

    Keep up your good fight, Arash! We are all with you.
    xo

    1. Thanks so much. Sad to hear that you had a negative experience like that too but let’s face it, there are just a lot of wacky people out there. We must do our best to ignore them and not let their issues get in our way. -AB

  4. I’d probably ask her “Were you born rude and insensitive, or did you do a university degree with honours to attain that level.”

    How beautifully your friend turned the remarks around to a positive. Great friend and one to be cherished.

  5. Dude, what the hell? Honestly, it sounds like that person had some kind of mental disorder. I encountered a lady at the memorial for those Berkeley Irish kids who passed away this past summer. She was going on about the weirdest things and I remembered, well, this is Berzerkley! I don’t think she was right in the head, this lady. I’m glad your friend who was there with you managed to take that conversation and turn it on it’s head, and you know, they’re right – you don’t belong in that chair dude! Just remember there’s a lot of crazy people out there, they wander among us. They look just like everyone else. If anything, pity them.

    1. Yeah Berzerkeley indeed. Well, I can tell you that my good friend who was with me is Irish so chalk another one up to them. Good people. 🙂 -AB

  6. Thanks for sharing that story. My favorite part is the fact that you didn’t feel the need to explain your self or argue with her. That shows true strength and confidence on your part. There is way to many of us out here who know the work you’ve put in to look that way.
    She is a perfect example of ” you can’t fix stupid” . Keep up the hard work buddy!

    Joe Sr.

    1. Thanks Joe! I didn’t feel the need at all. Good thing I dealt with it the way I did I suppose. And it gave me something to write about here on my blog so it was worth something! -AB

  7. She is lucky I wasn’t nearby…. as am I. Violence is the language of the inarticulate, and at this… I am at a loss for words. xoxoxox my beautiful eyelash baby boy.

  8. Well done Arash and so well written as always. You are a star! Take time every day to visualise all the nerves growing back and also yourself walking around in the present tense. It will happen – can you / be willing to think of it as happening already and be grateful for it!!

  9. People never cease to amaze me. You would think by now, in this day and age, this kind of situation would be a thing of the past. Kudos to you for seeing the silver lining. All we can do is try to educate those who need life lessons. Hugs, Denise

  10. Don’t be too hard on this lady please, or yourself Arash.

    It may be she had just as a debilitating condition as yourself, but perhaps from another perspective… somewhere on the autism spectrum such as Asperger’s?

    I do not condone that lady’s behaviour of course, but inappropriate questions, and actually even ‘nuts’ can be all a matter of perspective.

    It may well have been – that she was just damn right difficult and a pain in the arse!
    As someone who was sectioned myself, and I know that I wouldn’t not have been if it were not for speaking out ‘actively’ against importance issues I disagreed with on the estate I was living on, such as drug and social abuse… and the fact that I was bullied severely including false allegations being made by neighbours that resulted in myself being charged for something I did not do.

    I may have spoken of these experiences before, these posts touch on these issues, and the others people face:

    http://sebastianwhitewrites.wordpress.com/category/personal-challenges/

    I think your friend was absolutely right, and perhaps it is better to see this in a very positive context; that you are in a wheelchair, that someone is “actively” wondering if you need to be in this?

    That’s gotta to be progress hasn’t it?

    1. Very well said. I appreciate you providing your perspective on it and I think you’re totally right. Afterwards in fact, I just thought to myself that she must have issues to deal with too and I shouldn’t be too hard on her because she probably has a hard time getting through life interacting with people the way she does. I’m sorry to hear of your struggles and I appreciate you sharing your writings with me. Thanks for engaging in the dialogue as always. -AB

      1. No worries…

        And thanks, taken inspiration from you, in my most difficult times.

        Writing a children’s book on an estate, which was “socially excluded” in many respects, and riddled with all manner of problems… is ‘odd’ in this context. However those around me, assumed myself to be ‘odd’ and the cause of the troubles Arash, including the police… easy and ‘convenient’ assumptions to make, but very, very wrong.

        Those who ‘knew and cared…’ stood by me.

        Similarly perhaps, you met someone who struggled to understand the situation, and did not have the ‘realisation’ and insight you do have yourself now.

        Take care

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