You can’t miss me. My physical disability is obvious. You may not know the reason, but it is impossible to miss the big, black mass in which I am seated. Not alone in this world of having to navigate barriers of all kinds, I have a few friends who also roll around in chairs, and I know a few more who use rollers or canes. When in public, we are challenged by stairs, gates, and doors. If you are not physically challenged, you would be amazed at how many times we cannot go forward without asking for help. Many times, we need the assistance of an able-bodied person to help us manage our environment.
Not all physical disabilities are readily apparent. In addition to those using wheelchairs, rollers, and canes, there is another group. All around us are people who struggle every day with depression, anorexia, or autism. They, too, need help to manage their daily lives. It may not be a door that bars their way, but they encounter barriers to freedom.
Sadly, I have discovered a third group whose disabilities are more severe than either of the two mentioned above. Their illness is hidden and apparent. They are concerned only with themselves. With all the physical and emotional strive that is a constant companion for the other two groups, this third group is the most challenging to encounter.
Recently, some friends invited my husband and me out to dinner. Even though it was a Tuesday night, everyone was out enjoying the warm weather. Greeting us warmly, the hostess led us to our table, in the middle of the room. Uggh. In order for me to get to our table, we had to ask other patrons to get up, move their chair, and let me through. Person after person rose, some congenially and some unpleasantly. This is not uncommon. By the time I arrived at the table, multiple apologies had been extended on my behalf. Because I was sensitive to their reactions, I felt obligated to apologize that I was in a wheelchair and that they were inconvenienced.
Today, many people are aggravated. Period. I think that they live aggravated lives. I am sure you have come across these barely-sociable characters. They are the ones that push their way through, demand to be taken care of first, and are unsympathetic to the needs of others. Because there is no way I can avoid making my requests, I encounter a plethora of angry people. I watch them. Sometimes, they verbally complain about having to accommodate me. Most of the time, they use their bodies to communicate clearly their annoyance. Since my physical disability trumps their needs, they are forced to comply with my request.
In recent years, teenagers have been given the opportunity to care for a mechanical baby. It is a tool to educate our young people about responsibility. I would love it if there were a program where adults were required to manage life in a wheelchair for a day. How would they handle all the barriers that the mobility-challenged face every day? Maybe then they would discover how difficult it is to ask someone to move, or open a door, or fetch something out of reach.
We have all probably felt unsympathetic to another’s plight. Nevertheless, it does not
excuse the behavior. If we do not make every effort to change our thoughts, to take them captive, we will continue a downward slope to inhumanity. Living with a disability or engaging with someone who has a physical disability gives us the chance to learn empathy, sympathy, and patience. As we encounter the socially-disabled individual, our response may not change them, but it can change us.
Are you disabled? I may be physically disabled, but I am determined to live in a continued state of deepening faith and love. First, by living a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control); and, second, by learning to love everyone with whom I engage.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22)
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44)
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18)