I am doing this thing where I’m teaching my kids life skills. I think it’s meant to be a parental responsibility or something but I know some parents who have struggled to deliver, the kind who have a grown son or daughter that don’t know how to seperate their whites from darks or have not mastered the art of stacking a dishwasher. So when 10 year old, Layla, asks to ‘scan and pay’ for all the groceries at the self check out in the supermarket, who was I to stand in her way of learning the ways of the checkout chick? I’m sure she was doing it correctly but my attention kept being pulled towards a middle aged couple having a heated argument only metres away. A child, no more than 4 years old in shopping trolley beside them as their voices became louder and the language became harsher between them. It was hard to look away, kind of like a car accident. I was hoping that one of them would telepathically pick up the message I was trying to send them “Go and have your domestic in the privacy of your own home, not at a bloody supermarket, you idiots. There are kids around, including your own.” I then locked eyes with the husband. I heard him say “let’s go” and then they walked off. He heard me! Maybe I do have a gift? I know, I freaked myself out. Some may call it a coincidence, but I’m pretty sure we connected on another level. Either way, they moved on and I could go and pay attention to the glorious mess that Layla was making when trying to pack grocery items into bags. Clearly the kid doesn’t play much Tetris.
The whole way home I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had become the very same person that I can’t stand when I go to the shops with Paul. The people that stare at Paul like they’ve never seen a dude in a wheelchair before. I had flashbacks to our first public outing. We were outside a busy shopping centre where shops and cafe’s lined the street. Old men playing chess, kids screaming in the playground. Paul was being pushed by one of the carers and I was following behind them. I then started to notice people staring at him as we walked passed. One older gentleman, clad in a dirty suit with several missing teeth and worn shoes stopped in his tracks and stared at Paul as we walked by him and around the corner. It bothered me so much that I allowed Paul and his carer to continue in front and I stopped in front of this gentleman and stared right back at him with the same dumb expression that he had on his face. Once he realised what I was doing, he snapped his mouth shut and continued on his way.
Before any of you critics start jumping up and down defending the natural behaviour of the human race, let me just say this: yes we do stare at something that is different. We are curious and want to drink it all in. But you would not bat an eye at this man if he were in a hospital or healthcare setting so why should it be any different in a street?
This wasn’t an isolated incident. Moments after our gentleman friend took a long hard glimpse, an older lady did the very same thing only moments later. Clearly she had never been exposed to a man in a wheelchair. She, too, stopped in her tracks to have a good look at Paul. So I worked my magic and reciprocated the same dumb look back at her. She snapped out of it very quickly.
There is a point to the story. We are visual beings and we can’t help but look at things that are different or interesting. It helps us learn new things and grow. But when it comes to our fellow human beings, let’s keep the gawking to a discreet peek for the sake of respectfulness and freedom of no judgement…. unless of course you are telepathic.
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