Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In a Wheelchair

When we traveled to Disney World, I spent a few days in a wheelchair.

Let's face it: Disney is magical, fun, and all things great... and it is exhausting.

For a girl with limited stamina, this was a necessary concession, and it took me a long while to give in. There was just a lot to the decision for me; right or wrong, I needed to think it through.

What if someone else needs the wheelchair I rent that day? What if someone sees me park the wheelchair and get up when I can, when my strength is strong, when walking is more convenient? What might they think? In general, what might people think?

Is it misleading for me to sit when I could stand?

My questions were many; my inner arguments were extensive. In the end, I agreed to the wheels. Only because it seemed to be best for everyone else if I would choose to spend my days sitting instead of trying to keep up. Physical energy I saved promised instead emotional energy I could give.

I learned a lot. A lot.

First, I learned quite a bit about the practical experiences of those who spend their days on four wheels. I learned how pedestrians and foot traffic may or may not accommodate.

My brother was the strength behind my wheelchair most of the time; he said navigation is really about momentum. If he moved forward with confidence and stronger momentum than the oncoming traffic, they were bound to move out of his way.

Frankly, that's a pretty good leadership principle in general.

I spent a lot of time looking at the backsides of people in front of me. I didn't intend to, but all those bottoms were at eye level. I thought of creating a photo montage of the various shapes, lines, and figures.

(But I didn't. I mean, who would that benefit? There was just a lot of it happening right in front of me. A lot of the time.)

But I learned some deeper things, too. The wheelchair was something of an extension of myself, a crutch to carry on the outside.

Generations ago, a widow wore black for an entire year, alerting the world to be sensitive, reminding passersby that she was healing. While I'm thankful this tradition is gone, there is some merit to wearing a nametag that says, I need a slower pace, please.

If this trauma in my life is the emotional equivalent of a car accident, if the physical version would have landed me in the ICU for several weeks, then for the first time, my wound was visible.

People didn't know why I was in a wheelchair; they didn't know my need. They simply knew I had one; they simply knew that for some reason, I couldn't keep up on my own.

And they were right.

And in their sensitivity, I learned to rest. It was a plus-plus situation: others assumed I needed rest, and therefore I claimed what I needed. An interesting study of cause and effect, of which comes first, the request or the response.

Part of my reluctance in the decision had to do with my concern for my family; I was sure I would slow them down or become a burden to them. Someone would always have to push the wheelchair. Someone would always have to get me where I needed to go. Someone would always need to take responsibility for me.

That's humbling.

But I realized something entirely opposite: as I came to terms with my limits, as I chose to sit instead of stand, it made everyone else's day easier. My parents could enjoy the day, knowing I wasn't maxxed out. My children could enjoy longer hours at the park, since I didn't need to rush back to the hotel to rest. Adventures abounded and everyone enjoyed it more, all because I was willing to know what I couldn't do.

Recognizing my limits increased everyone's strength.

And on a final (and most important) note, I'll aim to make better eye contact with people who ride in wheelchairs. Far too many people make eye contact instead with the person behind the chair.

I was most humbled at the end of every day as I returned my wheelchair, well aware that I had the option at all: to borrow and to return.


Laura said...

I like this Tricia. The story of your day in a wheelchair (and why you so needed this) is a rich illustration of the beauty of learning to embrace our limitations. Parker Palmer speaks to this in that little book I gave you, the one you said your Mom devoured --"Let Your Life Speak" by Parker Palmer. When I read his words, I received such a great gift. We are often (and rightly) told to live into our giftedness. And yet, to do this well requires that we embrace our limitations. This is what we don't hear. We grow up learning that we can do or be anything we want. Who wants to hang around people with that attitude? We end up not needing each other. It doesn't make for very good community. Your story illustrates all this so well. Thanks much my friend. Love ya.

The Leivas said...

I love this post (I love all your posts really) but this one really seemed to speak to me in one of those right place/right time kinda ways. Today I completed the final paperwork ordering a wheelchair for my daughter. She turned 5 today, it will be a purple wheelchair. It's a long story but in some ways I'm looking forward to it for some of the same reasons.

Seda said...

A fascinating, honest reflection. Thanks for alerting us. =)

Leanna Mama said...

Thanks for sharing. I have Ceberal Palsy. When I was young I refused to use a chair. For me it was a pride issue - What would people think? I'm not living up to my potential. Someone who's worse off deserves the help more. The list goes one...
After I had my 2nd child I couldn't walk for 2 years due to a displaced hip. I had a 3 year old and a new born. I had people telling me I just need to walk thru the pain. I had to deside either to walk - or use a chair which allowed me to take care of my kids. As I age I use the chair more and more; I actually just bought a scooter of months ago. It's easier on everyone. It lets us go more places as a family; it allows me to take my kids place by myself, my husband not hurting his back; we don't have to worry about me falling. ect.

Anyway, I'll shut up. I love your blog. Thanks for being so honest. Praying for you.

Terry said...

dear tricia... every time that i think that i can't respect you even more, then here you are and my esteem for you is even higher.
by all rights with my having myotonic dystrophy, i should be using a cane but i guess my pride stands in the way and here you are giving in and actually willing to use a wheel chair, and there you were. learning something and giving sympathy to the ones who had to use wheelchairs all of the time..
you are a tender soul tricia...a gentle, gentle soul! terry

Becky Johnson said...

...your wisdom is helping me on a current journey so much. thank you. i am very thankful for your words...and I am also thankful for the responses of your readers....amazing. God is amazing.

Kay Day said...

So much wisdom, Tricia.
I struggle with the "what will people think" part. That's why I haven't taken my kids to the zoo lately. I know I'll need to rent a motor cart. Oh my. People will think...

Good for you for taking care of yourself. And I love how well this demonstrates what a relief it is to others when we take care of ourselves! So many people struggle with this. I'm passing it on.

Terry said...

dear trcia, i was thinking about this post so much that i just had to return and read it again.
..when i read to the end and saw that little angel sitting on your lap, i thought to myself...this selfless little lady has put her family ahead of her own feelings; the little guy on her knee, and the little guy beside her, and her strong beloved brother behind her are resting too and lapping all of this love up AND enjoying the adventures...robb would have been so proud!
you are a tender heart, the centre of your family..for sure! terry


Early in their friendship, a young couple I know went to Disneyland and rented a wheelchair just so they could take turns resting and pushing and get to stay longer and see more.

She rode first. He pushed. As they passed through crowds they kept seeing people glance at them and then lean toward each other and point. They heard whispers: "Oh that poor girl! What do you suppose happened to her?" "Oh, isn't he sweet to be doing that for her. Look how much he loves her!"

All the assumptions. All the sympathy. All the admiration. My friends couldn't bear to disappoint these total strangers. They couldn't bring themselves to face the indignation of people who would feel tricked if she suddenly stood up and traded places with him, proving she wasn't disabled after all.

So she stayed in the chair all day and he pushed her the whole way. And they told that story to their kids until the day death parted them.

ZAZA said...

Thank you for sharing. I will print this out for my mother who is such a strong woman but undergoing some current challenges. I think it will help her see that she is not alone!