I haven’t tried imagining very often what people feel or think when they see me with a guide dog and/or realize that I’m hearing/visually impaired. I remember what my reaction used to be before I was going blind – an uncomfortable excitedness. Uncomfortable because I didn’t know how to help this person or treat this person as I would anyone else, but excited at how cool it was that this person was living their life in spite of the differences between me and them and anyone else who didn’t have this kind of life “challenge.” It’s unsettling to think that others would have this reaction to me.
At the hospital the other day after a doctor’s visit, I was waiting in the lobby for my ride when I saw a woman, whom I assume was quadriplegic, in her wheelchair strolling in front me. My first thought was that it was ironic that a blind person with a guide dog was watching someone stroll by in a wheelchair. Then I thought, “I can’t imagine anything worse, not being able to move my limbs the way I wish them to, having no freedom to physically express my intentions or feelings.” I thought, “This person has every excuse to think life sucks.”
But as I was watching, I noticed she was smiling and laughing with her companion. Her eyes were clear and she was anticipating her surroundings just like everyone else I was observing, except she was in a wheelchair. I felt so proud of her, that she understood that life wasn’t about her wheelchair and was living it just like anyone else. It made me wonder if that meant I was proud of myself, which was confusing to me – for me, life is what it is and there’s nothing in it that I see as extraordinary. Which is probably similar to how the woman in the wheelchair feels. But I understood at that moment that the pride I felt for this woman was something that others may see in me.
At this discovery, I tried to put into words what I would want others who see this in me to know. All the cliché sayings about life came to my head but they all made it look repulsive, whatever it was I wanted to say. Perhaps the pride others feel towards me is reflective of something that they are proud of in themselves. They just haven’t recognized it yet, just like I hadn’t recognized it until I saw the woman in the hospital lobby. If we take a minute to realize that we are all the same in our aspirations for happiness and fulfillment in life, and that the only difference is in the obstacles we encounter to obtain that, maybe it would be clearer that someone else’s challenges aren’t any more challenging than our own.