Tapping the sign
I love rainy days and the gray skies that come with them. It might be my tendency toward melancholy, but I find the sounds and smells of rainy days so relaxing. There are two tasks, however, that become tedious for me in wet weather: keeping my glasses dry and walking on slippery surfaces. And when you combine those issues, I tend to encounter peril. Because of my neuropathy, if I can’t see, I can’t balance. If I’m off balance in slippery conditions, well, you can imagine the rest.
Nonetheless, I like the rain. I just take more precautions to compensate for the known struggles. I walk more slowly. I actually pay attention to where I’m going. And I park as close to building entrances as I can…even if this requires quite a lot of waiting to find a spot. This is all setup for the following story.
I stopped for a coffee while on the way to a doctor’s appointment. This parking lot was madness, one of those that seemed designed by the same people responsible for the Nickelodeon obstacle courses I saw as a kid. When there wasn’t a spot for me, I put up my handicapped (I hate that word but it still seems to be called this) placard and took my place. It might be pride or it might be compassion for others or it might be some of both, but I try only to use this when I need it. Also, I feel the need to exaggerate my limp when getting of the car and don’t like that.
Coffee in hand, I brave the rain for a few steps and get back in the car, immediately taking down the placard as you’re not supposed to drive with it on your mirror. Then I notice a man standing behind my car. He slowly moves around the car and then stands in front, all the while facing me. With a look I perceived as disgust, he started tapping on the “handicapped” sign. I was frozen. I still had the placard in hand, but it took me a moment to sheepishly hold it up. He sees it, holds up his arms in resignation, and mouths, “sure…whatever”. I think this is what he said, but I was still in an embarrassed panic.
I don’t fully know why I felt embarrassed. When an oppressor of any kind shows up, it is hard to stay present. All day, I couldn’t shake the feeling. It wasn’t a huge incident in any way, but it was a familiar one.
Then my thoughts shifted. I began to wonder what experiences had shaped this guy. While I don’t like his stance of automatic judgment, he likely thought he was standing up for someone or some group. Perhaps he has a disabled loved one. Maybe he has known the stress of trying to navigate the rain with someone in need and being worried about the lack of safety with each potentially-slippery step.
Then, another shift happened. How many times had I made assumptions that contributed to a marginalized person feeling even more marginalized? Do I communicate judgment in my face or with my words? How often am I the one tapping the sign?
I’m not excusing this guy’s actions. However, curiosity about his motives and about my own similar actions reframed the experience for me. Embarrassment faded and empowerment entered. Because if I can take steps to seeing, I can usually find my balance again.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.