My mom told me this story one day, and at the time it really upset me. I thought I’d share it with you so that if it ever happens to you (and it very well may — because it definitely manifests in many forms), you might see it differently than you otherwise would.
My mother had spinal cord surgery back in 2001 (yup, just a couple years before I had brain surgery if you can believe it), and it was not a successful operation. She had had some work done to the top two vertebrae in her neck, the C1 and C2, in hopes of fixing a pinched nerve issue she was having in her arms, which were frequently experiencing bouts of numbness. Because of her unsuccessful operation, her physical condition has deteriorated over time, resulting in all four limbs going numb sometimes now, which leads to dropping things or becoming very fatigued very easily.
If you pay attention to the way she carries herself, you’ll notice that she is unable to turn her head, so she turns her entire torso to look left or right rather than what the rest of us do. But apart from this, she appears to be a completely functional, if just a slight, woman. (She’s tiny: At just five feet and something like 90 pounds, it’s sometimes hard to believe she’s carried and raised two children!)
Anyway, one day, she was in a rush to pick something up for her restaurant at a local supermarket. She parked in a handicap spot (her license plates carry the handicap symbol so she doesn’t need a placard) and ran into the store, trailed by a stranger who repeatedly asked her, “Are you handicapped? Are you handicapped? Are you handicapped?”
If your first response to this is anger, I’ll admit that mine was too. My mother felt it, but took a second before she responded.
But she had a moment of enlightenment and it occurred to her that this very rude and angry stranger was probably upset by all the people out there who take advantage of handicap parking spots illegally (apparently there are a lot in the city of Chicago), and didn’t know any other way to confront someone who he suspected was committing that crime.
Calmly, my mother explained her condition and gently told him, “My disability isn’t apparent to the eye, but it’s very much there and getting worse with time. Not everybody who has a disability is in a wheelchair, but it’s still a reality.”
I remember a guy I knew, too, had a mother who was deaf in one ear. It greatly upset him that people would frequently treat her as though she were stupid simply because they couldn’t see that she had a disability, regardless of how she appeared.
Let this be a reminder for all of us that everyone has their own reasons for what they do, and never to make assumptions about anybody that we meet. And if the criticism is coming from someone you know well and hold close, remember that sometimes they can forget what it means to be in recovery. Be gentle.
To our healing,