Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blacks Is Photography

It took a little while to think of where to go. We'd always just gone to the big Sears store down at the Eaton Centre to get our passport photos done, but it closed a few months ago. Suddenly we remembered that there was a Blacks Photography store only a couple of blocks from us. I was a little concerned because I'd shopped there before and it's a small store. But we could think of no where else to go, so off we went. I had to get passport photos done, not for a  passport but for a new piece of 'disability ID' that I need in order to access a new service being offered in the city. We'd been putting off getting it all done. Today was the day to get the photos.

As we entered the store I saw a sign for 'Passport Photos' in far left corner of the store. Great! Then when we got closer I could see that it would be difficult, if not impossible to get my chair into position to have the photo taken. Great. But I told the clerk that I wanted a photo, we paid for it, and then we started trying to get me in position to be able to have the photo taken. My chair was just a little too wide to back into the space I needed to be in.

The problem was that the space was between a counter and a wall which was had hooks all over it with products hanging from those hooks. They stuck out several inches making an already narrow space even narrower. I just couldn't get into position. I tried getting out of the chair and standing but I was too tall, I forget, because I don't stand very often that when I'm up I have a lofty view. The clerks, the three of them, began talking about options.

They decided that they'd just take the hooks and the product off the wall which would create much more space and I could then back into it. I protested because that would be a lot of work but they brushed the protest aside and just started clearing the portion of the wall that had blocked my entry. Once done, sure enough, I was able to back into place, get my picture taken and be done with it. We were told that the photos would be ready in 20 minutes, so we went off to do the rest of our chores telling them that we would be back.

When we got back I looked at the pictures. They were fine, I always look like I'm angry for having got caught in the middle of a mass murder in these pictures, but they were fine. I then took a moment and thanked them all for doing what they did. They could have easily said, "Sorry," and sent me on the way, an address for another store in my pocket. But they didn't. They were solution oriented, they were pleasant, they acted as if they WANTED to do what it took to provide the service.

They said that my 'Thank You' wasn't necessary, but it was. We all know that most often 'accessibility' is an attitude, a willingness to welcome, a creative approach to service. Well, all three clerks showed that they were willing to be accessible and that's what made it possible for the store to also be accessible. That, in my mind, deserves a thank you.

I got home and looked up Blacks on line and found them, on the bottom of their page, they have a link to their Accessibility Policy and in it it states: At Black's we value diversity and inclusiveness and support a work environment where all individuals, including those with varying abilities, are treated with dignity and respect. Our workplace culture extends to our customers, together with a commitment to accessibility for all.

I've read words like these a thousand times before. Usually, they are words that don't action into meaning. Today, at Blacks, they did. I've got the pictures to prove it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cookie Stat!

I was stumped at what to do next.

I have this big job, I have that tough task.

I couldn't choose.

So I sat here stumped.

Then I knew what to do.

I poured a cup of tea.

I got a cookie.

A low sugar, high fiber, I'm in my 60s, cookie.

But it was still a cookie.

And I dipped that cookie into my tea.

I held it there until it softened.

It took a while.

Then I plopped the steaming hot cookie into my mouth.

And let it sit there, sweet and gooey.

Tasting like a regular cookie rather than a cookie to keep me regular.

I didn't think about the big job.

I didn't think about the tough task.

I just enjoyed the cookie.

It didn't make the choice easier.

Cookies don't have that power.

But ... it took the pressure off the moment.

And ... it took the pressure off the brain.

And that did make the choice easier.

I think life should give everyone a cookie PRN order.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Perseveration Much?

The movie was better attended than we thought it would be. That surprised us. What didn't surprise us was that the one accessible seat, with the symbol all over it, was taken. There were lots of other seats available, but that one was gone.

I asked the woman sitting there if she realized that the seat was an accessible seat. She said that she did not and immediately got up and grabbed her stuff. She looked back at the seat, once she stepped out, and said, "I honestly didn't notice the wheelchair symbol." She then took a middle seat in the next row forward. We thanked her for her immediate willingness to just move a little forward.

It had been a simple and pleasant interchange.

Or so we both thought.

As we sat through the trailers and munched our popcorn, we noted that the woman seemed to be a little bit upset. I wasn't sure why. It had been a simple and pleasant interchange. She had chatted a little bit with her new seat mates, she had an empty seat on either side of her so she wasn't wedged in next to anyone. It all seemed to be so easy and so, I'll say it again, pleasant.

The movie started.

About ten minutes in, she stood up and dashed out of the theatre.

I watched the movie while running through the request I made to make use of the accessible seat space. I thought of the little chatter that happened with us, both our thank yous, the chatter she'd had with her new seatmates. It had all seemed so easy and so friendly.

This morning, I got up to write about this and realized while doing so ...

What if this isn't about me at all?

What if this has nothing to do with our interaction?

What if the two things, my asking, her leaving, have nothing to do with each other?

Why am I not trusting that my memory and Joe's confirmation that it had all been pleasant and friendly?

Is there a danger of making connections that may not be there?

Is disability sometimes not really part of the story at all?

And the most important question: Why am I still thinking of this four days later?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Reporting, Permission and Expertise

Sometimes what's Rolling Around in My Head comes Tumbling Out of My Mouth:

A new convenience store has opened around the corner from us. It's a big one and it would be really handy to shop in. I knew they were doing renovations to the store so I went over to look and see if they'd made it accessible. It's easy to do because it has only one shallow step and then an long entranceway. A ramp could be put there, except for the work, easily. Instead I found that they'd fixed the long crumbling step by pouring new concrete and keeping the step there.


I'm going to have to call the city to find out the rules about this. It seems to me that if a building can be made accessible and it's being renovated it should be made accessible. But, I'll give Rob and call and see if he calls back.

Later that same day, Joe and I were crossing the street up at Yonge and Bloor. A fellow was handing out flyers announcing the fact that the new convenience story was now open. He handed one to me. I said, "That store is inaccessible. When they renovated, they didn't bother to remove the step. It's inaccessible to me and to anyone with a mobility device." He put his hands up as if he had been attacked, I didn't yell, I used a conversational tone of voice, I wanted him to have this information. "I didn't have anything to do with that, they just pay me to pass these flyers out ." I nodded. I understood that.

As I was crossing the road a woman, who had overheard the conversation, told me that I'd been unfair to the man. That he "couldn't have known it was inaccessible," and isn't responsible for the decision of whomever rented and renovated the store. I said to her, "I only informed him of the inaccessibility. I wasn't rude."

"And what is he supposed to do with that information? Magically make it accessible?" sarcasm dripped from the words.

"No," I said after taking a breath, "I think it might be wise for him not to hand the flyer to those who can't use the store. If a store disallows a part of the population access, then you shouldn't invite them to come visit."

"Well," she said, considering, "you have a point."

"And may I point out, to you," I said extremely calmly, "that I don't report to you. That disabled people don't need permission from the non-disabled to speak out about something affecting our lives. I don't need your direction. I don't need your input. When it comes to my life as a disabled person, I'm the expert OK? I'm shocked that you felt that somehow you had the right to give me corrective feedback."

"I was just trying to help."

"So am I," I called to her retreating back.

 All this and we were just going for tea. As we sat down, Joe passed me my tea and said, "Ah, just another lecture tour of the neighbourhood."

"Ha, ha," I said.

"It wasn't a joke," he said, smiling.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Is Risen

(originally published in Mouth Magazine, reprinted in "A Real Nice But: articles that inspire, inform and infuriate, from Diverse City Press)

Snow fell, four inches deep. Sweeping it off the car was not the way to celebrate Easter and usher in a new season.

My feelings were jumbled from a conversation days earlier. I had been consulted on the rape of a young woman with a disability.

We were faced with the fact of the rape, the fact that the courts wouldn't believer her and that society doesn't take crimes against people with disabilities seriously. The day was a hard one. At the end of the day I was challenged.

The staff who had been there almost from the moment of the rape and through all the events that followed, mocked me. She asked, "How can you believe in God, in Jesus, in Easter? How can you believe that whole story of death and resurrection? How can you not see that it was simply a story built to explain and humanize the magic of Spring.

"How can you look into the eyes of a woman, raped and brutalized, and say that you believe in a compassionate God?

"Fool." She actually called me a fool.

Driving to church, I desperately looked for signs of spring. It became important for me to see a bud, some green, or hear the sound of even one bird. No colour, no sound, just the white of new snow. Easter. Spring. Hope.

How can I believe?

I thought of her, a woman with Down Syndrome who trusted too often, too quickly, staring at me when I asked her to tell me what happened.

I have no trouble believing in the betrayal of trust. I know that some early Judas could betray a man who trust too often, too quickly. I know that the world is full of those who simply can't be trusted. I know that friends can hurt and family can bruise. I have no trouble believing in the betrayal of trust.

Turning the corner towards the church, I turned on the car radio for distraction and heard that the trust fund to liberate a man who murdered his daughter because of her disability had reached a significant amount. I heard that support for his cause was strong.

I heard that a young boy with a disability had to fight for a lung that the hospital thought would be wasted on him. I heard that when it was announced that the transplant would be done, members of his town, his province, tore up their organ donor cards not wanting to save the undeserving.

I thought of her eyes. Eyes that knew, instinctively that the law just wasn't there for her. A society that sees murder as kindness for those who are disabled will not care much if one is otherwise brutalized.

I have no trouble believing in the hatred of the crowd. I know that people often call for the death of an innocent. I know that society can be convinced to hate those who are blameless. I know that millions will march lock-step behind any who preach of an Aryan race. I have no trouble believing in the hatred of the crowd.

She told the story with quiet and calm. She told her story again and again. First to us. Then to the police. Then to the doctors. She told of how the man had hurt her. How he had forced her to the flow. How he had made her take off her clothes. How he had pierced her. Her eyes filled with tears the third time she told the story. I thought the tears would never stop.

I have no difficulty believing in crucifixion. I know that there are those who pierce flesh with bullets. I know that there are those who would pierce hearts with vicious words. I know that there are those who would pierce souls with messages of hatred and bodies with iron rods of power. I have no difficulty believing in crucifixion.

There it ends. I know that Christ was killed, blameless. Snow falls on Easter. Spring buds hid from the cold. Parking, I cried. "Fool." I had been called a fool.

I remember hearing that the doctor stood her on a cloth and had her strip. Her body searched as they prepared evidence. Her pubic hair combed, the wounds inside her measured and documented, hair pulled from her body to be matched.

Then, thus ritually "cleansed" of evidence, she was bundled into sheets and then taken home. She had finally run dry of tears. She allowed herself to be bathed and then lifted to her bed. She dropped into sleep as if dead.

I have no trouble believing in death. I know that death comes as a relief to most who struggle through this life. I know that most die crucified in one way or another by cruelty, indifference or pain. I know that for those who commit suicide, death is the portal to a world free of hurt. I have no trouble believing in death.

Remembering the phone ringing the next morning I had woken from a troubled sleep. Sleep filled with anger and hate. I heard her voice. She was up, refreshed and strong. She said that she didn't care if the police didn't believe her. She said that she wanted to go to court and tell the world what he did to her. She said that she wanted everyone to know that she was not a liar.

She said that even if he goes free he will know that she knows. She spoke so clearly that  I couldn't hear her disability through the complex notions of which she spoke.

Tears again. I felt ... Joy? Sadness? I don't know. But for the first time I understood Easter. I understood Spring. I understood Hope.

The miracle of Easter is not that Christ died for His beliefs. We have sacrificed ourselves since the dawn of time. We can all imagine dying for at least one principle.

No, the miracle is not that Christ would die. The miracle is that he would want to rise! The miracle is that he would get up and go on. The miracle is that into a world where there is betrayal, hatred, crucifixion and death, he would rise again.

The miracle is that a woman, despised by society and brutalized by one she trusted could get up in the morning and go on. Resurrection. Rising again.

Maybe I am a fool. But I see a woman rising on the day after rape as resurrection. I believe that Christ wanted us to know that there is always hope. There is always a reason, every day, for rising. Resurrection.

I opened the car door and stood. Hope, to go on again, resurrected for the thousandth time into my own life.

Come, spring.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tripping over a Trigger

Joe and I had gone out for lunch with friends and, on the way home, decided that we'd stop at Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up a couple things we needed. As it was Good Friday, we were surprised to see them open and even more surprised to see that the store was doing a very brisk business.

As we roamed around the store getting the few things we needed, we both reminisced about when we first moved to Toronto and, even on a typical Sunday, everything was locked up tight. When we finally had all that we needed, we got into the line up. It was a fairly substantial one but neither of us was in a rush so we chatted quietly and waited our turn.

When we got up to pay, we put our things down on the counter and the woman working there quickly and efficiently began to ring them up. I decided I wanted to pick a few scratch and win tickets from those displayed on the counter. The woman, who was really charming, pulled them out and I was in the middle of picking five tickets when it happened.

A voice came from the line up behind us.

"Hurry it up will you!!"


"Come on, come on, don't take all day about it!"

I grabbed the tickets and grabbed my wallet in preparation to pay. I had begun to sweat. My heart was going in my chest, anger and fear and outrage, stole my words. I've had this happen before, It's gone very wrong before. I just wanted to get my stuff and get out of there. I had shrunk down so that I was experiencing this completely alone and completely in my head. I looked up to the cashier and saw that she was laughing. WHAT??? Why would she laugh about this? I'd thought she was charming. Now she's laughing at me too? I feel sick to my stomach. I don't even want the stuff anymore, I just want out.

I turn to look at Joe, HE is laughing too. If anyone understands these situations, Joe does. And he's laughing. He had been beside me, he had taken a step back and was looking back in the line up. Now he's TALKING to someone. I move my chair slightly, it's a fellow who lives in our apartment building. I don't know him at all but I do know that Joe knows him. Joe, who works from home, has come to know almost everyone in the building.

Joe looks at me, sees my face, twigs to what's happening in me. He says, "He always give me a hard time."

Oh. My. God. He wasn't even talking to me. He was talking with Joe, that's the way they are with each other. They joke around.

I just thought it was me.

Not because, it's always about me, but because it usually is.

I'm used to being seen as in the way, as not having a right to the space or the pace that I take. I am used to being the subject of rushed mutters from people living artificially busy lives. I am used to being the road block, the cause of the detour and I know that taking a step around me is seen as a long and unnecessary journey.

But it was just a joke.

A joke.

On the way home, Joe notices that I've gone quiet. I tell him, "I didn't know it was a joke. I thought I was getting yelled at again."

Now it doesn't matter that it was a joke.

All the same reactions happened, all the same emotions sprung forward, all the insecurities that came with my disabilities, and others from before, came out in force. They were triggered by a joke, made to someone other than me.

We came home and I spent sometime just quietly, and slowly, telling myself, that this time, it was only a joke.

But that fact, that simple truth, in all honesty, didn't really help.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Panis Angelicus

(originally printed in Mouth Magazine; reprinted in "A little behind: articles for challenge, change and catching up" and published again here with permission of Diverse City Press)

Butter tarts. She was making butter tarts. I leaned up against the counter and watched. Impossibly slow, incredibly precise, she fair burned with purpose. I was expected elsewhere in the building, to have another meeting about something important, I'm sure. But something bad me watch. As realization dawned, her experience became mine. This is what it had all been for, the years of toil and struggle. The captive is freed. And lady liberty moves, slowly filling the pastry shells , one after another. Not a drop was spilled, if it was I didn't notice. All I could see was a graceful ballet of movement.

Butter tarts. Really. Butter tarts. She was making butter tarts. Her hands, the ones that had mixed the batter, were women's hands. I could tell that hers had not been cared for, seldom scented, maybe never even held. Gentleness, she dipped the spoon into the batter with such gentleness. As if she wanted, more than anything, to never cause hurt or harm. Her hands, at least, could promise a peace she may never have known. I had worked once in one of the places that caged people like her for the crime of difference. I smelled the scent of captivity. Her feet still did the institutional shuffle, as if the shackles of that time had disappeared but not fallen away. Time slowed around us as she turned a mundane chore into a hymn to freedom.

Butter tarts. Do you realize the importance of butter tarts? And yes, that she was making them. Sweet batter, unnecessary calories, a smell of luxury, all in a frivolous food. Panis Angelicus. Not on a diet or menu plan anywhere in the world. Butter tarts, two words that freeze the heart of every nutritionist. I remember the pinched faces of those who disapproved or any pleasure or warmth for them. I remember locking doors behind me and going home, leaving them there. I remember being watched through caged mesh as I walked to the car. I remember emotional poverty. But now, butter melts, sugar runs dark with sweet. She was making something rich though her clothes were little more than threadbare. Her manner was of servitude. Her posture of meekness. And yet she was making something rich. The thin souls of those who live to deny, shiver. She was baking a revolutionary food, a declaration of independence from those who know better.

Butter tarts. With raisins. She was making butter tarts with raisins. There were other people in the room with me but none seemed to notice her. Sound swirled around her but but couldn't penetrate her concentration. Her eyes followed every raisin's fall into the delicate pool of sweetness. Twice she stirred the raisins deep into the batter. Hidden treasures, she smiled, in anticipation. I looked at the others in shock. Why couldn't they see the glint in her eyes as the raisins fell and as she slowly filled each small pastry shell. None ran over. They don't need to anymore. Because and only because she was making ...

Butter tarts. With raisins. On a pan full and waiting only for her. This was her job. Not mine. She didn't meed me, my help, my intercession. This was hers. It needed her hands. We were in a kitchen. It had a sink. A fridge. Stove. It was like a thousand kitchens in a thousand homes. Unremarkable really, except maybe to her. She alone may notice what others do not see. She would see the unlocked doors that led only outside. The windows without mesh or bars. It had only people who knew her name and who used it kindly. She was here because she wanted to be. This was a choice. Freely ... unbelievably ... freely made. Her hand showed no tension from rush, or fear, or force. They simply worked at their own speed in creation of the sweet hereafter.

Butter tarts. I want to call down the corridor of time. "Come one. Come all. Quick come see. The village idiot is making butter tarts. The institution's moron is scooping batter and the school's imbecile watches the raisins fall. The denied child -- her touch knows sweet. The refused communicant -- her heart knows bitter." How long, I wondered had her hands been held captive in that place with the long corridor. How long had she waited, and endured, and prayed for today. The day that she would make ...

Butter tarts. With the poetry of motion she was eloquent. She moved in freedom as if its air had the buoyancy of water. In wisdom we had locked her away for the crime of learning slowly. She will again, I know be called a R#tard by those who know better. She will face those who are embarrassed by her presence. She will struggle, every day, against bigotry to live with dignity. But the battle is won. Because now, and all we really have is now, she is sitting on a comfortable chair and waiting.

For butter tarts.