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.
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.