Ok Tammy, you got this. You can do it. This is what I tell myself every time I’m about to enter my chosen battlefield. Once inside, I take a deep but much needed breath. This is it! Let the games begin.
I have every play mapped out in my head. I have convinced myself nothing’s going to stop me this time. I proceed with confidence. Not even two minutes into my perfectly planned play, I experience a blindside cut-off. It’s ok, not a big deal; I’ll just go right back to the plan. I advance further, however, not as smoothly as I hoped.
I find myself dodging to the right for a few feet to avoid interference, but it’s not working, so I change course and dodge left. Oh boy, that play failed; the enemy is headed right for me. Dodge right again, I tell myself and before I know it, I’m weaving my way around and gaining very little ground. On top of my dodging and weaving, I’m now dealing with stares and, yes, even the odd rude comment from the opposition.
I have a few choices now. I could surrender this battle, I could return at another time, or I could continue my battle with my head held high, knowing I can complete my desired mission and I have every right, just as my opposition does, to be in this battlefield at this or any chosen time.
Of course, me being me, I choose not to give in and I continue on my merry way! About three hours later, I look and feel like the battle has won; however I am surrounded by evidence that my mission was indeed successful.
This battle can happen to me at any given time once I step outside my door, but the battle seems to become more intense right around this time of the year. It’s a crime really because I used to enjoy my adventures. Now, after so many battle scars, my confidence and faith in the “Season of Giving” has been tainted.
By now, you may have figured out that my battle is Christmas shopping. Those two words can either bring happiness and joy or terror and a whole bunch of headaches. For someone like myself, who has a physical disability, the joy of wanting to give to others can lead to a situation that becomes extremely stressful and even sometimes humiliating. Crowds have never been “disability friendly” but add stressed out shoppers and/or aimless wanderers to the mix and the result is anything but ideal.
Just when I think I have seen it all, something even more outrageous trumps that. A few years ago, while out shopping, I was in an average sized store. I had stopped to look at something and I guess I was “in the way.” Well, instead of hearing, “Excuse me” or seeing someone go around me, I hear “My God, this is the third wheelchair in my way today. Why do they let these people out on busy days like these. They should shop on not-so-busy days or malls shouldn’t allow them in smaller stores.”
On another occasion, I was shopping independently. (Most times, I’m with a friend but when trying to buy their gift, I prefer to maintain the surprise element.) At these times, I require a little extra help from the salesperson. I just need help taking my money out and then placing the bag or bags on my wheelchair. Ninety percent of sales people are extremely helpful and for that I’m so very grateful. This time, in the line behind me, I hear, “People like this should not be shopping alone. If they need help, they should either have someone with them at all times or try shopping online. “
These are only two examples of incidents that have occurred while I have been attempting to prepare for one of the most supposedly “joyous seasons” of the year. After also being tripped over, run-right-into (then given the look accusing me of being in the way) and even having shopping bags hit various parts of my body and my wheelchair, I can’t help but question why. Why are people jumping to conclusions about me based on my needing a mobility aid to better get around? Why do people feel the need to rush so much that they need to physically step over another human being or bump them with bags? My biggest question of all: where is this famous holiday, give-to-others spirit?
My goal in sharing these stories and my thoughts is to create awareness, not pity. I was sharing this topic with an acquaintance of mine and was asked what I felt the solution should be. There is no real solution. There is, however, a common courtesy that should exist between individuals. It is a simple one: RESPECT. I fully understand the excitement and stress of the holidays, but I think as fellow members of our society, this should be the best present that we can give each other. As they say, a little respect and understanding goes a long way.
Perhaps one day my Christmas battle can turn back into a somewhat fun-filled way to kick off the holiday season…
Thank you for allowing me to share my view with you!