Just for a moment find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes and imagine this…
Imagine you are a teenager. Imagine yourself sitting in a chair. You are hungry and thirsty. The kitchen is only a few steps away, but you can’t get there. You can’t move your legs to get up off your chair and walk the few steps to the kitchen. If by some means you could get to the kitchen, you couldn’t prepare food or pour a drink, because you don’t have functional use of your hands.
So you wait… until someone comes into the room who may be able to help. When someone comes into the room, you can’t tell them what you need because you can’t speak. And so you need to try and find a way to make them understand without using words that are recognisable to others and simple gestures. Eventually this person understands and prepares your meal and brings your drink – but you can’t eat it or drink it because you can’t feed yourself, so this person feeds you.
In a little while, you need to make a trip to the bathroom. Again, you can’t get there and if you could get there, you couldn’t use the facilities without help. So again, you need to communicate to this person that you need to go to the bathroom, and you need to let them help you with your bathroom routine.
If you aren’t feeling babied, frustrated and humiliated by now, sit a while longer and continue imagining. This person helping you is your mother; she intuitively interprets most of your needs. This place you are in is your home. Let’s move to the next scene…
You are at school. Now you have to communicate the above to people who aren’t intuitively connected to your needs. When you are finally able to make someone understand that you are hungry, they have no idea what you like and don’t like to eat. Being taken to the bathroom by your mother was bad enough, now numerous others need to take you. Sometimes it’s more than you can bear and you end up accidentally wetting yourself before you are brave enough to ask someone. And then there are your peers. They want to know about you, but you have no way of sharing.
In time, both at home and school, the people who are most in your company begin to piece things together and it gets a little easier to get by. But sit a while longer and move with us to scene three… out in public.
You are shopping and a small child walks passed staring at you and then unashamedly asks loudly, “Mommy, why is that boy in a wheelchair?” To which the child is either shushed by the embarrassed mother and moved away quickly, while you sit cringing, or the mother brings the child over and asks your mother to explain, for the two-thousandth time in your short life, why you are in a wheelchair, and what is ‘wrong’ with you. Or sometimes, with your mother carrying you – imagine because you are smaller than others your age, and because your features don’t give away your disability – being asked why you are being too lazy to walk and making your mom carry you.
Soon you start believing there is something wrong with you; that you are not a whole person, and you retreat into your inner world even more – not realising that some people, although able to walk and talk are much more crippled by their own ignorance, insensitivity and non-appreciation for the abilities they take for granted or who use those abilities to harm and not heal.
But, there are those who, instead of sympathy and tolerance, renew your faith with genuine love and compassion and you learn to make your place in the world and to hold your head up through every challenge and humiliation. You learn appreciation for the help of others and patience when it is not there. You learn to value the little moments and to rejoice in the big ones.
Most of all you get to see what very few other people get to see over and over… the true depth of kindness and generosity in the human spirit.